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"this delivers in spades"

★★★★ - STUFF 

- He was the man who helped bring opera to a whole new audience.

The son of an Italian baker who met everyone from koalas to Kofi Annan and became great friends with both Princess Diana and Bono's housekeeper.

Boasting one of the most-recognisable visages (and silhouettes) of the 20th century, "the King of the high Cs" also possessed a stunning tenor singing voice and as, Ron Howard's (The Beatles: Eight Days A Week) new documentary showcases, a sharp sense of humour.

"Can you be sure you'll hit the note?" Australian raconteur Clive James asks Luciano Pavarotti in one of the many fascinating archival clips on display. "No, that's the beauty of my profession," came the larger-than-life maestro's reply, without missing a beat.

But while Pavarotti is a celebration of the bloke who sold more than 100 million albums and played to audiences in excess of 10 million, it's not just a trawl through his successes – or a hagiography.

Howard and his team do a great job of mixing the memorable moments (selling out Madison Square Garden in 1984, his late-1980s China tour, THAT 1990 show with Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo) with his early struggles to pay the bills, battle against the bulge ("Dieting for him was not eating a fourth scoop of ice-cream," his former US manager says) and the fallout (especially back home in Italy) from his decision to start a relationship – and then marry – a woman 34 years his junior.

Perhaps it's the result of being interviewed more than a decade after its death, but the fondness with which his first wife Adua speaks of him is delightful, although she admits he did become something of a feted diva. "If he had asked for chicken milk, they would have milked a chicken," she laughs.

Other highlights of this professional, but personable production include Pavarotti's daughter (one of three from his first marriage) Lorenza revealing that when she was a little girl she was convinced he was a thief ("because he was always out at night and had a suitcase full of wigs, facial hair and other disguises"), footage of the singer cooking pasta with US talkshow host Phil Donohue and seeing a drenched Princess Di be absolutely charmed by meeting Pavarotti for the first time.

There are times when it all feels a little bit too scattershot in its audio-visual montage approach (it lacks the coherent driving narrative and freshness of Eight Days A Week), but as a Pavarotti – and indeed – opera primer (there's a great explanation of the tenor voice and potted plots of key works), this delivers in spades.

- James Croot, STUFF


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