Watching the television replay of Ron Howard’s Pavarotti biopic reminded me how rare it is for a huge personality to survive on a living room screen. A few extracts from Jonas Kaufmann’s Christmas shows best illustrate the decrease. Kaufmann on stage can project himself over great distances. Close-up on screen, it is no more exceptional than most seasonal entertainment.
Pavarotti, from near or far, pierces. I remember him touching, through a crowded room in the Savoy Hotel, the personal space of each person who had come to witness his return to London. He was banned from Covent Garden in the 1980s after claiming to be “indisposed” when he was featured in all the newspapers on a Hawaiian beach with an anonymous admirer. John Tooley, the former administrator of the Covent Garden guards, huffed and puffed about the breach of contract. Luciano said he would never sing in Covent Garden again.
And here he is again, under the new direction of opera, larger than life – much taller – happy to be back and with a look of wonder on his face at every question he didn’t want to answer. The wonder only grew when he opened his mouth to sing: is it really me?
The critical wisdom of the day was that he couldn’t act. Just look at that face: every expression in Shakespeare’s textbook, tragic and comedic and then some. He’s been gone so long, almost 15 years, and greatness shines through every picture.