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Subject: Opera Singers in Movies
From: "G. Paul Padillo" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:G. Paul Padillo
Date:Wed, 6 Sep 2017 11:47:01 -0400
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While not quite as broad a category as our prior “opera as movies” series, it
it's worth noting the number of opera singers who appeared in movies, go
going all the way back to the silent era, some of which have been di
discussed in the earlier thread.

Most singers didn’t successfully transfer their artistry from the stage to the 
screen, but some are definitely deserving of mention.

Theresa Stratas made her film debut as “White Squaw” in 1961’s “The 
Canadians” directed by the great “Western” filmmaker, Burt Kennedy.  
Outside of operatic (and operetta-ic) roles, she made relatively few other 
features, the most notable being 1997’s “Under the Piano” with Amanda 
Plummer.  Stratas won the Gemini Award (Canada's “Oscar”) for Best 
Supporting Actress for her role as Regina Basilio, a complicated former 
diva who gave up stardom for family.  Despite the sacrifice, Regina almost 
singlehandedly destroys the lives of her two daughters.  Stratas creates a 
difficult to love woman, hardboiled and tough as nails, whilst hiding a 
tortured vulnerability and an almost phobic fear of life.  

While I’m generally leaving out non-operatic performances, Galina 
Vishnevskaya’s performance as Katerina Ismailova already brought up by 
myself and others, cannot go unmentioned as it’s one of the most searing, 
intense performances – sung or spoken, committed to celluloid.  Her only 
non-singing role is the title character of the great Russian director, 
Alexander Sokurov’s film “Alexandra.”  While most Americans find his work 
slow going, I happen to adore his films and “Alexandra” ranks up there 
with his best work.  The fact this man, a titan outside of the world of opera, 
wrote and directed this to honor Vishnevskaya is a genuine tribute to one 
of the 20th centuries greatest performing artists.  Stripped of her 
customary glamor, Vishnevskaya’s Russian babushka is a tough, crotchety 
old woman who, by any means necessary, (including a tank) makes what is 
likely her last voyage, a visit to her grandson, a soldier serving in the 
Second Chechen War.  Like his other work, Sokurov’s “Alexandra” raises 
cinematic storytelling to the highest form of art, and worthy of this great 
diva.  

Another great singer from the past century, Lauritz Melchior made a 
handful of films including 1942’s screwball “Luxury Liner” joining up with 
George Brent, Jane Powell and (wait for it) . . . Xavier Cugat!  Of his 
performance the NY Times’ Bosley Crowther wrote:

“Mr. Melchior puts his bellows to work on anything from a snatch of ‘Aida,” 
to a Scandinavian drinking song.  The latter is highly appropriate, for you’d 
think from  the way he drinks beer in great quaffs all the way through the 
picture that he was posing for a brewery ad”

Crowther ends his review with:

“Color, as usual, does something to make this Luxury Liner look brighter 
than it is.  Batten down your hatches, if you board it.   You’re likely to find 
the passage rough.”

Youhza!

Julia Migenes dabbled in film, most (un)notably in “Berlin Blues” a 
hackneyed, romantic potboiler with the soprano as an American cabaret 
singer living in Berlin, when her pianist/boyfriend is shipped back to the 
East.  Contrived enough as it is, the film goes off kilter when a conductor 
friend tries to help Migenes establish herself as an opera singer.  I 
remember barely staying awake through this in a DC Cineplex not long 
enough ago to have forgotten it.  

While we primarily think of him as a “Hollywood Musical” actor, Nelson 
Eddy was a bona fide opera singer, with some impressive roles in  his 
repertoire, including the U.S. premiere of two Strauss operas, “Ariadne auf 
Naxos” and “Feuersnot.”  Other impressive roles included the Drum Major 
(a tenor role!), Amonasro, Wolfram in “Tannhäuser”; Marcello; Count 
Almaviva; Pappageno; and most impressive (for my money) Gurnemanz in 
a Parsifal conducted by Stowkowski (who conducted him in other works, as 
well).  He was also chosen to sing in the world premiere of 
Respighi’s   “Maria Egiziaca” conducted by the composer himself, when the 
scheduled maestro, Toscanini, bowed out at the last minute due to illness.

My favorite singer ever is Callas, but when I first saw Pasolini's "Medea" 
when I was a kid, I generally loathed everything about it.  I watched it a 
few more times, but it wasn't until I was "no longer young" that the film fi
finally worked on me and now I watch it perhaps once a year and find more to
to appreciate with each viewing.

I'd be interested in seeing what other films people mention starring, or 
featuring opera singers.  

p.

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