Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Un grande spectacolo

Alas, Gentle Readers, I am on enforced opera-hiatus due to a bronchial malaise of some sort.  I refuse to contribute to opera-house coughing, and it seems counterproductive to tire myself out when I wouldn't be able to really appreciate the evening, anyway.  So I have, of course, been forced to get my opera fix elsewhere.  M. Owen Lee's Opera Quiz Book, in addition to providing hours of innocent intellectual enjoyment, also provided inspiration for sharing some tidbits with you, Gentle Readers, and inviting reciprocation.  Among Fr. Lee's erudite quizzes are three on "I Heard It At The Movies," a compilation of cinematic moments made more memorable by opera.

Some of my favorite "opera moments" in film sadly aren't on YouTube; these include Professor Bhaer taking Jo to watch Les Pecheurs de Perles from the wings in Little Women, and a thrilling use of "Anges Purs" in Grand Illusion, a film about the excellence of which I could happily wax verbose.  Another opera moment I love is at the bizarre conclusion of Cet Obscur Objet du Désir: just when you thought a Luis Bunuel film involving an impassive butler, a dwarf psychologist, unexplained acts of terrorism, domestic violence, and nude flamenco dancing couldn't mess with your head any more, the radio announcer puts on James King and Leonie Rysanek in Act I of Die Walküre.  If any of you have any theories about what that is supposed to mean, I do invite--nay, implore--you to share them.  Meanwhile, a few other opera moments:

The Danny Kaye vehicle Wonder Man includes a wild parody which takes all sorts of liberties and plays stereotypes about opera performances and performers to the hilt.  The "Miserere" from Trovatore makes a surprise appearance, but without its proper words.  I... I still actually think this is hilarious.
 If you can stand it, it goes on here, with the prompter's despair becoming ever more marked.

From the ridiculous to the sublime: the lovely Danish film Babette's Feast (based on a story by Isak Dinesen,) where the emotional complexities of a developing relationship are suggested primarily by the selections chosen for music lessons.  I love this; the entire film is achingly beautiful:

And that is all for now, Gentle Readers, barring a shameless plea for you to share your favorite opera moments from film in the comments section.


  1. Can you embed my links for me if my attempt doesn't work?

    The first that comes to mind:
    The alien diva (is there any other kind?) sings Lucia in Luc Besson's The Fifth Element:

    There'll be more, let me think.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hi there. Thanks for posting.
    LOL, it also seems that I need to implore my readers ('gentle readers') to comment...
    Unhappily, I haven't seen any of these movies yet, but I am very curious about Babettes gæstebud, which I am certainly going to watch this weekend.
    I am trying to remember the name of a video I once saw on YT which contained an hilarious section "Post-Puccinism". :-P

  4. Ahahahaha. Victory is mine, and the link to DTO's delightfully surreal clip is live.


  6. Well, and of course this:


    @3:39 or so and forward.

    Also his reference to people's reaction to opera is very different from my experience and while it may be true as a generalization does vary greatly from person to person.

    I'm sure you and probably most people reading this blog can think of a bunch of commercials featuring operatic music with anything from the Toreador song and the overture to Figaro to The Ride of the Walkuries to more obscure (I use the term with hesitation ) arias like "O Don Fatale". There is also the I think relatively common use of the "Fat Woman Singing" (to end the opera) featuring a portly Brunnhilde with winged helmet and spear bellowing something at the top of her lungs. The problem with this image of course is that these days Brunnhilde rarely wears such a helmet and even if so she does so at the end of Walkure where she doesn't sing at the end. Further, Brunnhilde's are by no means uniformly fat (e.g. Janice Baird, Evelyn Herlitzius, and the very lovely Madame Stemme).

    I can't imagine how you could possibly have contracted an ailment with the lovely weather we're having but I do hope you recover very quickly.


    I think this is a better clip

  9. I remember a NY State Lotto commercial with a bunch of people in medieval costumes singing the brindisi from Traviata. That was beyond excellent (lol).

    On the other hand, that old Nokia ad with Brunnhilde and the errant cellphone, that was pretty accurate, even if she did have to borrow Wotan's spear for a sec.

  10. Lucy, I still don't see the videos: can you log out and check if you see them when you're out? Maybe it's only showing to the administrator.

    I just placed a hold on Diva, which I've never seen, so that should be good.

    (Grrr I hate Pretty Woman... what patronizing piece of crap. Gary Marshall should be hung on one of the bras that managed to avoid the mythical Second Wave bra pyres of the sixties.

    I just remembered that there's lots of Tom Hanks lipsynching to opera CDs in 'Philadelphia', but that film's bad too, so I won't provide links).

    I can't figure out why this show was never shown in North America -- it was a hit everywhere in Europe, on both sides of the Curtain, and proclaimed one of the best British sit-coms of all times in various vox populi & critici surveys. I watched it as a teen in Communist Yugoslavia and later. It's absolutely brilliant. So: meet the Cockney lumpen brothers Del & Rodney, as they go to the opera for the first time:

  11. Thanks for the clips, all! I haven't seen S.'s "Diva" either, but will look it up. Agree with marcillac: although I don't really care for the film, I've always found Richard Gere's contentious statement--opera either love at first sight or (potentially) acquired taste--interesting. And I did really like the selection of moments from Traviata On the one hand, I wonder whether attributing this quasi-mystical, different-from-other-arts status to opera doesn't do it a disservice... but then discovering opera, for me, did feel like an almost existential AHA-moment, a "This, at last!" Overplayed it may be, but I do think that scene from Shawshank is wonderful.

    I've never seen "Only Fools and Horses" on TV, DTO, but I think I've seen it in DVD catalogs. Will check. How the clip manages to show the spectrum of reactions to the opera is brilliant. "It's not supposed to get going; it's culture!" was great. I expected the entrance of Carmen to hold everyone mesmerized, but, alas.

    I've never seen the Nokia ad with Brunnhilde and an errant cellphone... but I want to now! I don't really watch TV so am spared or deprived of these manifestations, but one of my favorite Met opera quiz questions was inspired by a misguided mattress spot which used "Nessun Dorma"; the panelists were challenged to come up with apt pairings of opera selections and products.

    I haven't been able to use code to embed videos, but if you mouse over the link to "Fifth Element," it should be highlighted (this worked when I was logged out.) I've now made the other links active as well.

    Oh, and a belated thought of my own: Moonstruck, with Boheme laced through the soundtrack, and of course being performed in a pivotal scene.

  12. I've always liked the scene from the old Audrey Hepburn movie "Love in the Afternoon", when she and her date are watching "Tristan and Isolde". And then there's the 1999 "Onegin", which has one of the most ironic uses of "Mir ist so wunderbar" that I have ever seen.

    And I don't know if you ever watched the old kid's show on Nickelodeon, "Hey Arnold", but it has a truly hilarious opera episode:
    I distinctly remember my opera loving parents watching this one with me and just roaring with glee. :)

  13. another apt pairing: Microsoft's "Where do you want to go today?" campaign with the Confutatis of the Mozart Requiem. Absolutely brilliant!

  14. Hey! Don't forget the 40 minute finale of The Godfather III - one of the greatest movies ever, ending with an Italian performance of Cavalleria Rusticana.
    These are the last two minutes of the film, with the intermezzo

  15. More gems! And from such diverse sources! The Mozart sounds brilliant. It makes me wonder, where are the Microsoft marketers who find such an idea, and find it hilarious? I have to say, going to "Tristan" on a date with Audrey Hepburn sounds as though it has amazing cinematic/dramatic potential. I have heard mostly negative reviews of the Onegin film, but am tempted anew: where there's one excitingly, aptly cynical idea there might be more! I've only seen the first of the Godfather films so far. Methinks if the films were operas, they would be messy verismo, so Cavalleria seems appropriate.

  16. How could I have forgotten this: Claude Chabrol's film La Ceremonie (only with accents) with Isabelle Huppert, Sandrine Bonaire and Jacqueline Bisset has a family (to be slaughtered some minutes later) gather before television set to watch Don Giovanni... What a film.

  17. @DTO How can I not have SEEN this?!?


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