Top 10 Best Uses of Opera in Movies
Opera music is usually quite emotional, and as such can be very useful in films to quickly convey a particular feeling to the audience. Even though they may not understand the words or know what the song is about, generally they will appreciate the sentiment that is being conveyed. Better still is when the words and the story of the opera do correspond to the situation in the movie. So, with no further ado, here is my list and my rankings based on how well the song fits into the movie theme-wise and also how well it ties into the storyline of the movie itself.
10. Sunday Bloody Sunday Soave Sia Il Vento from Cosi fan tutti – Mozart
Sunday Bloody Sunday is about a young bisexual designer and his simultaneous relationships with a recruitment consultant and a Jewish doctor. Both know about the other but fear losing him. Cosi Fan Tutte is about two soldiers who try to seduce each other’s fiancees in a test of their faithfulness (or lack thereof). Soave Sia Il Vento is used frequently in this move; it is sung by the sisters as their fiancees sail off, supposedly to war.
Wall Street epitomized ’80’s greed and excess; it was the story of a young stockbroker who begins to emulate his hero by using insider trading to try to amass a fortune. Rigoletto tells of a self-centered playboy Duke who casually seduces women and abandons them. Questa O Quella was in Wall Street while the young stockbroker has dinner with his materialistic girlfriend; the lyrics translate to “This girl or that girl are just the same to me…” Here is a great version sung by Jan Peerce.
8. Fantasia Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda – Ponchielli
Fantasia, as you probably know, was an animated Disney film set to classical music. One must admire the juxtaposition of a scene featuring hippos and ostriches dancing to a song from an opera set during the Inquisition.
Gallipoli is the story of several young men in general and two friends in particular from Australia who enlist during the First World War and fight and presumably die together in the battle of Gallipoli. Au Fond Du Temple Saint is a duet in which two men swear to be friends until death. Here this lovely duet is sung by Plácido Domingo and Rolando Villazón.
6. The Fifth Element Il Dolce Suono from Lucia di Lammermoor – Donizetti
The Fifth Element is almost certainly not the sort of film in which one would expect to hear opera. As wikipedia sums it up: The film’s central plot involves the survival of humanity, which becomes the duty of a taxicab driver named Dallas when an extraterrestrial young woman falls into his taxicab. She is the Fifth Element, whose appearance was prophesied by the Father Vito Cornelius. The driver Korben’s mission is to gather the other four elements before a black planet that represents pure evil collides with Earth. Mangalores, slow-witted warrior mercenary aliens hired by corporate tyrant Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg, are given the task to thwart Korben’s efforts. This is nicely well suited to go with Lucia di Lammermoor, particularly Il Dolce Suono, in which Lucia sings of being with her lover Edgardo, soon to be happily married. Unfortunately, at the time she is singing this, she has just murdered her husband Arturo. This all seems to tie together nicely with the movie as shown in this clip (particulary after a few stiff drinks).
5. The Life of David Gale Tu Che Di Gel Sei Cinta from Turandot – Puccini
The Life of David Gale takes place during the last week before the execution of David Gale, a former college professor and death penalty opponent who has been sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a colleague. In the course of telling his story to a journalist it becomes apparent that there was more to the murder than meets the eye. Turandot is a beautiful Chinese princess who bets prospective suitors that they cannot answer her three questions; the stakes being her hand in marriage against their lives. In the The Life of David Gale, a mysterious strangers appears to be stalking the journalist telling his story, and this stranger is very fond of listening to Tu Che Di Gel Sei Cinta, which is sung by the servant Liu to Turandot immediately before Liu commits suicide. You can listen to the aria sung by Eva Marton.
The Hunger is a film about Miriam and John Blaylock, stylish vampires living in New York City in the 1980’s who first married in 18th century France. Unfortunately, old age is finally catching up with John, and very dramatically. While trying to help John, Miriam becomes interested in Sarah, who is studying sleep disorders and aging. Lakme is the story of Lakme, the daughter of a Brahmin high priest in 19th century British India. In this clip, Miriam is playing Viens, Malika on the piano and discussing with Sarah whether or not Lakme and Malika were lovers.
3. Life Is Beautiful Barcarolle from Les Contes d’Hoffmann – Offenbach
Life Is Beautiful is a film whose premise sounds like a complete oxymoron; a comedy about a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Guido, an Italian Jew, his five year old son and his wife Dora, are taken to a concentration camp. Rather than terrify his young son by admitting the truth, he spins a story of how they are playing a game, the winner of which will receive a real tank. Les Contes d’Hoffmann consists of three short stories. In the third act, Hoffmann falls in love with the courtesan Giulietta. In this clip, Guido has followed his future wife to the opera where he is attempting to gain her attention. This duet is also included later in the movie in a heartwrenching scene at the concentration camp.
2. Fatal Attraction Un Bel di Vedremo from Madama Butterfly – Puccini
Fatal Attraction is about a successful, happily married man living in Manhattan who meets a single female editor from a publishing company and has a brief affair with her. What he thought would be a brief fling turns into a horror story as she begins to stalk him and his wife and daughter. Madama Butterfly is the story of a young Japanese geisha whose American lover (whom she views as her husband), after a long separation, ultimately returns with his American wife in tow. At the end Butterfly commits suicide. In the movie, Alex, the female stalker, is enthralled with the opera Madama Butterfly and several arias are included in the film. At one point she listens to it while attempting to commit suicide. Unfortunately there are currently no video clips available with both song and film so enjoy Renee Fleming’s beautiful voice; the aria is Butterfly singing about how she knows that on one beautiful day her “husband” will return to her.
1. Apocalypse Now Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walkure – Wagner
Apocalypse Now is set during the Vietnam War and tells the story of Army Captain Benjamin L. Willard who is sent into the jungle to assassinate United States Army Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, who is said to have gone insane. Ride of the Valkyries features eight Valkyries – female deities who flew over the battlefield, alloting death and choosing the most heroic of those who died in battle and carrying them off to Valhalla. The scene takes place while US troops are attacking a Vietnamese village because their beach is perfect for surfing. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide who, if anyone, is “heroic” in this clip.
Bonus: Rabbit of Seville Overture from Barber of Seville – Rossini
OK, it’s not a movie, but you know that you wanted to see it!