Top films featuring opera 5-1
The final part of our countdown, featuring among others Bugs Bunny as Brünnhilde.
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, 15 and 11 and 10 and 6. On with the show…
5. What’s Opera, Doc? (1957) Dir. Chuck Jones featuring various Wagner operas
Whilst not a full length film, its influence as one of the first experience youngsters have of opera means that we couldn’t avoid including this short masterpiece. A pastiche of various Wagner operas, we’re treated to Elmer Fudd hunting ‘Wabbits’ to pieces from the likes of Die Walküre and Tannhäuser before falling for a rather familiar looking Brünnhilde…
4. Philadelphia (1993) Dir. Jonathan Demme featuring Andrea Chénier
Hailed as one of Tom Hanks’s finest performances, Philadelphia was one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to tackle issues around HIV/AIDS and homophobia. Inspired in part by true story of Geoffrey Bowers, the film tells the tale of a lawyer’s fight in the courts for wrongful dismissal through discrimination.
In this clip, the severely ill Andrew Beckett (Hanks) waxes lyrical to his attorney Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) about the power of opera and in particular Maria Callas’s rendition of La Mamma Morta from Andrea Chénier. Passionately translating the libretto, Miller is clearly moved, afterwards making his excuses to return home and embracing his daughter and wife, realising how fortunate he is…
3. Apocalypse Now (1979) Dir. Francis Ford Coppola featuring Die Walküre
A masterpiece of cinema, Vietnam war classic Apocalypse Now (based on Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness) tells the tale of Captain Willard, sent deep into the jungle to assassinate the deranged renegade Kurtz who has set himself up as a God to the local people.
This clip with the use of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries employed to devastating effect by the twisted Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, who attaches speakers to the helicopters and plays the piece to soundtrack a horrific napalm strike.
2. Pretty Woman (1990) Dir. Garry Marshall Featuring La traviata
No not Pirates of Penzance, it’s a performance of La traviata that high flying businessman Richard Gere takes prostitute Julia Roberts to see on her journey from pavement to penthouse.
This scene features one of the most famous opera in pop culture quotes courtesy of Gere: “People’s reactions to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic; they either love it or they hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.”
La traviata is, of course, the story of fallen woman Violetta ends up dying tragically in her lover’s arms. Thankfully, Pretty Woman features a rather happier ending…
1. Shawshank Redemption (1993) Dir. Frank Darabont featuring Le nozze di Figaro
Wrongly convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) gives comfort in the face of adversity to his fellow prison inmates by breaking into the warden’s office and playing the beautiful Sull’aria…Che soave zeffiretto from The Marriage of Figaro.
Single-handedly stopping everyone the prison in their tracks (exemplified with a stunning crane shot of the yard), Dufresne ended up in solitary for the stunt. Still, it was worth it – friend Red (Morgan Freeman) testifies; “It was like some beautiful bird flew into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments every last man at Shawshank felt free”. Ironic, as the duet features duplicitous love letter to expose the infidelity of Count Almaviva…
That concludes our countdown. Did we miss your favourite opera in film moment?
Do you have any thoughts on our top 20? If so, tell us via the comments below