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Top films featuring opera 5-1

The final part of our countdown, featuring among others Bugs Bunny as Brünnhilde.

By Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media)

14 October 2011 at 2.39pm | 7 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, 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

By Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media)

14 October 2011 at 2.39pm

This article has been categorised Learning, Opera and tagged cinema, David Mcvicar, Der Ring des Nibelungen, Die Walküre, Film, Keith Warner, La traviata, Le nozze di Figaro, movies, Production, Richard Eyre, theatre

This article has 7 comments

  1. Mareike responded on 14 October 2011 at 3:26pm Reply

    Excellent choice!

  2. Sophie Herdon responded on 14 October 2011 at 5:48pm Reply

    i so agree with your number one, had unbelievably forgotten Apocalypse Now, have chuckled so many times with elmer Fudd and must admit Philadelfia and Pretty Woman deserve their places. What a great concept, thank you ROH

  3. Cathy Pryor responded on 20 October 2011 at 11:13pm Reply

    Hurray!!! You've included both of my suggestions in your top 20 (Ride of the Valkyries in Apocalypse Now and the intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana in Raging Bull). Thank you!! And what impeccable taste you obviously have!! ;)

  4. Ruth Elleson responded on 14 January 2012 at 2:44pm Reply

    In your no. 2 moment, Richard Gere's character utters "one of the most famous opera in pop culture quotes" DURING THE MUSIC. Over the opening bars of the Traviata prelude! If I was Julia Roberts's character, or indeed the people in the box next door, I'd be shushing him...

    Pretty Woman also, in its final scene, contains one of the most dramatically-inappropriate uses of an operatic excerpt that I've seen in film - Edward & Vivian reunited for good, to the strains of (how to dramatically dump your boyfriend) Amami Alfredo!

  5. T responded on 25 May 2012 at 12:40am Reply

    Whoever put the list together should be shot.

    1. "A Night at the Opera"
    ...and for 3 points can you say what was the opera in this Marx Brothers film?
    2. "Diva"
    ...and for 3 more points what was (1) the aria and who was (2) the diva played by, in this marvellous triumph of French style.

    • mimi responded on 12 July 2012 at 12:24am

      Agree on both counts. 'Diva' is a real opera lovers movie. And regarding 'A 'Night at the Opera', I saw this on telly as a kid and to this day I've not been able to sit through a production of Il Trovatore without suppressing a belly laugh when the Anvil Chorus starts. What's so enjoyable about this movie is that it doesn't just use one aria from an opera as background music (like most movies today) - it takes extended pleasure in skewering various parts of it!

  6. Tony Cox responded on 25 September 2012 at 10:22pm Reply

    The opening of The New World (2005) is stunningly beautiful and the sound track is the start of Das Rheingold. The opening credits include 'Music by James Horner' which is a bit of a cheek. By the way Wagner has today 797 screen credits for music. That is more than any other composer and amazing for someone who died in 1883. Melancholia (2011) uses great chunks of Tristan und Isolde.

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