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Classicalite's Five Best: Opera Films

By James Inverne j.inverne@classicalite.com on Feb 12, 2014 03:41 PM EST

It's not easy putting opera on the big screen.

Oh, you'd think it would be fine--that the scale of the screen would match and even elevate the scale of the operatic form. Sometimes that happens, but often the humanity gets lost.

What's so wonderful about opera is that it amplifies human emotions, the humanity is still at its center, just writ large, which is what can make it so very moving. If a film forgets that, it's lost.

However, opera on film has had its great moments. But with the far-cheaper method now of filming stage productions for cinema broadcast, one wonders if fully-fledged opera films might have had their day.

In the meantime, here are Classicalite's Five Best opera movies...

Don Giovanni, dir. Joseph Losey

The master film director finds just the right blend of the ornate, the austere, the passionate and the slightly weird for a sinister yet affecting version of Mozart's masterpiece. Ruggero Raimondi was always a fine actor, and he had no problems translating his stage magnetism for the cameras.

Carmen, dir. Francesco Rosi

Real bull fights, Raimondi (again), and a central pairing of astounding singing actors (Plácido Domingo and especially Julia Migenes-Johnson) make this a riveting traversal of Bizet's tunefully bloodthirsty tale.

La Traviata, dir. Franco Zeffirelli

Proving once and for all that he is a director about much more than simply spectacle, Zeffirelli makes Verdi's classic in some ways as bleak as it has ever been (and it has been pretty bleak, let's face it), with a brilliant and cruel "trick" ending. Teresa Stratas gives a vulnerable, nothing-spared performance. She almost bleeds on film, one feels. Domingo, again, is his usual camera-friendly self (meant as a most sincere compliment) as Alfredo. The only blemish is Cornell MacNeil's rather over-the-hill Germont. A shame that Zeffirelli later so cut and mangled the score of Verdi's Otello for his film of that opera with Domingo in incredible form--that twisted hulk could have been the finest opera film of them all.

Elektra, dir. Götz Friedrich

Opera as hyper-stylized horror. Surely no one who has seen this incredible film of Strauss' shocker will forget it. Friedrich took some of the great singers of the day (Leonie Rysanek, Astrid Varney, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau) and threw them into his hellish vision.

Die Zauberflöte, dir. Ingmar Bergman

A deliberately presentational (you see a watching audience from time to time) version of The Magic Flute sees Mozart bring out the charmer in Bergman. Beautiful filmmaking.

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TagsClassicalite's Five Best, Opera Films, Ingmar Bergman, La Traviata, Carmen, Don Giovanni, Mozart, Verdi, The Magic Flute, Strauss, Bizet, Domingo

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