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Top films featuring opera 10-6

The third part of our countdown, featuring among others Robin Williams tackling Rossini and the demise of the Don.

By Chris Shipman (Content Producer (Social Media and News))

13 October 2011 at 11.45am | 5 Comments

The Royal Opera House cinema season continues this month with Adriana Lecouvreur which will be screened in over 700 cinemas in 22 countries. To celebrate we’re counting down our top 20 films featuring opera. If you missed earlier blogs, take a look at the films that made it in between 20 and 16 and 15 and 11. On with the show...


10. Amadeus (1984) Dir. Miloš Forman featuring Don Giovanni

Director Milos Forman’s mantelpiece was left sagging in the middle after the release of his most high profile film – the Mozartian drama netted him a structurally unsound eleven Oscars. The film was praised and reviled by audiences, for its compelling storytelling (both Fahrid Murray Abraham (Salieri) and Tom Hulce (Mozart) were both Oscar nominated) but extremely creative use of license with the narrative.

In this clip, Mozart’s rival Salieri (old and in an asylum) attempts a piece of psychoanalysis – revealing his view that the terrifying Commandatore is a manifestation of Leopold, Mozart’s father. He also reveals that the opera inspired his grand plan for victory…

9. Moonstruck (1987) Dir. Norman Jewison featuring La bohème

Cher and Nicholas Cage star in this 80s romantic comedy - the former as a divorced accountant named Loretta, the latter as her fiance's estranged brother Ronny. Cue decision making  over which of the two brothers to choose - the steady, dependable nice guy Johnny who brings security or the more rough and ready baker Ronny. After a rendezvous above the bakery, Ronny admits he's falling for her. He agrees not to see her again if she goes to the opera with him.

The clip in question features Donde lieta usci from Puccini's La bohème bringing a tear to Cher's eye...

8. Citizen Kane (1941) Dir. Orson Welles

There are two mysteries in Citizen Kane – the first being the identity of the arcane Rosebud, the second being why on earth Charles Foster Kane married ‘singer’ Susan Alexander - a woman with as much pitch control as a bag of cement thrown down a lift shaft. Still, it makes for a highlight of opera in film - the woefully out of her depth Susan attempting desperately to string together some semblance of a tune.

If you're wondering, Susan's singing voice was provided by professional opera singer Jean Forward who under direction, sang outside of her natural vocal range. She agreed to having her voice used in the film as long as her identity was never revealed.

7. Mrs Doubtfire (1993) Dir. Chris Colombus featuring Il barbiere di Siviglia

A children’s staple, Robin Williams’s cross-dressing tour-de-force features operatic clowning in its opening scene around as Daniel Hillard larks around at work as a voiceover artist. His efforts earn him the sack, a divorce and a wig and cardigan combination that’s as hilarious as it is surreal.

The aria in question is William’s take on Largo al factotum from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville which has also soundtracked the exploits of Tom and Jerry.

6. The Godfather: Part III (1990) Dir. Francis Ford Coppola featuring Cavalleria Rusticana

The third and final part of the quintessential gangster trilogy sees the resolution of the tale of Michael Corleone the Mafia kingpin played by Al Pacino. Now old, the Don is attempting to make amends for his violent life of crime by using his wealth to fund acts of charity (getting a commendation by the Vatican in the process).

Unfortunately however, in the end – the Don winds up alone in Sicily, after the death of his daughter during an assassination attempt on him on the night he goes to see his son perform in the opera Cavalleria Rusticana. The final scene uses Pietro Mascagni's Intermezzo (the same piece employed to such beautiful effect in Raging Bull).

We’ll be counting down the final five films in the next installment. In the meantime, what are your favourite films featuring opera?

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By Chris Shipman (Content Producer (Social Media and News))

13 October 2011 at 11.45am

This article has been categorised Learning, Opera and tagged Citizen Kane, don giovanni, Elijah Moshinsky, Film, Francesca Zambello, il barbiere di siviglia, Movie, opera, Production, soundtrack, The Barber of Seville

This article has 5 comments

  1. Aside from the one you already have above (Amadeus), it would have to be the Barcarolle in 'La Vita e Bella'.

    Used to devastating effect in this scene set in Auschwitz where one man plays Offenbach's Barcarolle on a gramaphone to his wife across the divide of the concentration camp to let her know that he is still alive, leaving music to say what he literally cannot.

    • Chris Shipman (Content Producer (Social Media and News)) responded on 13 October 2011 at 2:47pm

      La Vita E Bella - An incredible film. Deservedly won Best score at the Oscars. Thanks for the link too!

  2. Emile Myburgh responded on 13 October 2011 at 2:34pm Reply

    There is also the amazing scene from Shawshank Redemption in which the entire prison is brought to a standstill with the Letter Duet from Le Nozze di Figaro. Beautiful interpretation too.

  3. Henrik Lamark responded on 13 October 2011 at 2:45pm Reply

    The movie 'Farinelli's use of opera touched me deeply when it was out, I remember my mother took me to the cinemas to see it, even though I was much younger than the ratings applied. The movie is so brutal, yet so beautiful, and the mix of the two voices (I believe they mixed an alto and a tenor to achieve what they think the great castrato may have sounded like) is truly extraordinary.

    Another favorite of mine, although technically not an opera, is Hans Zimmers music for the movie 'Hannibal'. Seldom has a character been better portrayed in music - elegant, nonchalant, a tad arrogant - and brutally perverted. A genius score in my book.

  4. AManda responded on 13 October 2011 at 5:58pm Reply

    Probably the most obvious but surely Apocalypse Now, Wagner and helicopters.

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