“I’d like to be remembered as the man who brought opera to the people,” says the late Luciano Pavarotti in the opening scene of Pavarotti, the new documentary film about his life and career. Acclaimed director Ron Howard (whose recent directorial hits include The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and Solo: A Star Wars Story) showcased the film last night with an intimate screening at New York’s iPic theater, cohosted by the Cinema Society. Admirers of the legendary Italian opera singer included Patti Smith, Keegan-Michael Key, and Martha Stewart, who all made their way to the waterside theater for a special first look.
“I’ve listened to Pavarotti thousands of times,” said Smith ahead of the screening. “I’ve learned from him, and so I’m very excited to see the film.”
True to Pavarotti’s ethos, the film captivates even those who aren’t the most well versed in classical music and opera (such as this Vogue writer). “It’s very clear from the movie that one of his most important aims was to spread the world of opera to everyone,” agreed Nicoletta Mantovani, one of the film’s producers and also Pavarotti’s widow. “Luciano really admired the fact that opera was sung in the streets by people in the old times, like pop music now. So he wanted to bring [it] back.” The movie focuses on Pavarotti’s desire to democratize the genre: During his American tours he made a point of bringing concerts to small towns in the heartland that notably lacked an opera house, and his 1977 performance of La Bohème at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House was the first opera performance to be televised live. The film also touches on Pavarotti’s famous friendship with Princess Diana and his ensuing benefit concerts. To much criticism at the time, Pavarotti’s benefits featured musical collaborations between the maestro and rock musicians like Sting and Bono.
After the film, not even an expected downpour of rain could dampen spirits as attendees dashed across the street to the after-party. Howard was in high spirits too. “It really begins with enough access and fresh material to be able to offer a new perspective,” he said, noting the support he received for the documentary’s materials from Pavarotti’s managers, colleagues, and family. “In this case, we had the cooperation of the family, which meant their interviews, which were so personal, raw, emotional, but also comprehensive in terms of helping us understand Pavarotti. We also had these amazing photographs, videos, and tapes from their archives that we could work with to give audiences a lot of moments they’d never seen before.”
R17, a rooftop lounge atop Pier 17, played host to the party, with guests abuzz in conversation about the film. Cozy fireplaces and refreshing pamplemousse spritz cocktails provided a delightful segue into the rest of the evening. Conversation and Prosecco flowed for the rest of the night, punctuated by circulating platters of bite-size avocado toast and crisped potatoes garnished with truffle aioli.
Pavarotti opens in select theaters on June 7.