Setter’s ‘Spectives: What Happened to All Those Great Opera Movies?

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Remember Franco Zeffirelli’s excellent film of Verdi’s Otello? Lush production, sexy direction, terrific acting, and of course, the great Placido Domingo as the titular Moor.

Why can’t we get more movies like that today?

It seems like there isn’t as much of an impetus to develop cinematic spectaculars based on classic operas as there was three decades ago, and I think that’s a shame. Once upon a time, you had Ingmar Bergman doing Mozart’s The Magic Flute, too. But now, it appears that directors of a certain stature are more content to craft large-scale pictures out of popular contemporary musicals than operatic standards. It makes sense from a commercial standpoint, as the latter have a more limited audience. From an artistic perspective, however, it’s lamentable.

I want to see a great celluloid version of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, darn it! And not the nonsense that is Tristan + Isolde, see?

Today, with New York’s Metropolitan Opera doing HD films of various productions, it’s easy to think that we’ve come to an era where the genre is made accessible to everyone. I don’t think that’s the case, though. Movies of productions aren’t the same as cinematic iterations that aren’t confined to one stage; Zeffirelli’s Otello is proof of that. It was an actual film, not a filmed opera. That’s one of the reasons why it worked so well onscreen. Editing, cinematography, music, art direction – everything combined to make a powerful whole. It became a motion picture.

I don’t think opera is a dying art, nor do I believe it should be relegated to the upper class. It’s for everyone, and the great works deserve to be viewed and listened to by all. That’s why I’d like to see more of the type of thing that Zeffirelli has done in the theaters – not just HD versions. Many of these stories are quite cinematic, with fanciful plots and engaging characters. Shouldn’t they be put onscreen where they belong?

I think so. And I hope one day, we’ll see opera once again take its rightful place in the cinema.

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