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Archive for August 5th, 2009

by Sam Juliano
I am offering copies of my Top 10 “opera films” to the first person who correctly answers an opera trivia question. The operas are of course presented under today’s long post titled “The 25 Greatest Opera Films of All-time.” The winner will simply be asked to provide a mailing address, and the packet will be send on.
The question is as follows: When naming the ‘greatest’ American opera composer of all-time, five names invariably pop up. I will eliminate two of these five–Phillip Glass and John Adams–as their work is comparatively recent, and has not stood the test of time. Of the other three, only one is still alive.

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traviata 1

by Sam Juliano

     The ‘opera film’ as it is referred to in its simplest incarnation is a hybrid of two disparate art forms, that merge to create a vehicle of artistic expression that is like no other.   The incomparable experience of visiting an opera house yields an intimacy that can’t be replicated with simulcasts shown in movie theatres, nor with the in-home viewing of taped performances.  Yet, for all it’s fidelity to what is often regarded as the ‘world’s greatest art form’ live opera can be an excruciating grind for some because of excessive length, overhead or back of seat subtitles, and minimalist sets that often don’t physically replicate the setting envisioned by the composer.  In the early 60’s film directors began to explore new avenues to present opera in sensory terms, showcasing lush settings, ravishing costumes and expressionist filmmaking that allowed the opera basics to shine forth in a completely new light.  The best singers of their times were featured in stunning close-up, and medieval tapestries were often re-created to make the stories more alluring and contextually persuasive.  The projected permanency of the opera film insured that casting directors painstakingly examine all options before settling on final choices, and orchestras at the peak of their powers were chosen to give the most compelling and faithful readings of the respective works.  The result was a new form that allowed opera to be showcased in purely cinematic terms, while simultaneously enriching and accentuating the elements that had the most appeal in the first place.  By providing a lustrous and atmospheric canvas, opera was given a new life and an opportunity to appeal to the masses.  Three opera film directors, all of whom are still alive and working: Franco Zeffirelli, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and Peter Weigl, created the most exquisite entries in the field, and all three were prolific and had a talent for composition and framing, and uncanny knack for getting the proper readings for their musicians and extraordinary vocal performances from their stars.  Hence, on record, with all the indelible embellishments in place, the work of these remarkably gifted artists has resulted in large measure the finest operatic works available today in any presentation.  of course, there other world-class directors who contributed a single great work: Joseph Losey (Don Giovanni), Hans-Jurgen Syberberg (Parsifal), (more…)

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