Lyric Opera Goes to Hollywood: In-Depth Guide

By: Lyric Opera Staff

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Lyric Opera Goes to Hollywood is a concert celebration of opera’s greatest moments in the movies. From the Golden Age of Hollywood through present-day the program brings together touching and funny moments from movies that feature beautiful arias, exciting overtures, and hilarious opera-infused moments. Learn more about the movies and the works featured in Lyric Opera Goes to Hollywood, then come to the Kauffman Center on November 13 and 14, 2021 to experience these works live. Learn more and get tickets.

Giuseppe Verdi: Overture to La forza del destino | Desperate Remedies (1992)

This famous Verdi overture opens the 1992 film Desperate Remedies, directed by Stewart Main and Peter Wells. It’s easy to see why the directors selected this dramatic overture to start this movie. The plot is quite operatic and even contains an opera as a mise-en-abyme, a story within a story.

Gioachino Rossini: Largo al factotum | Il barbiere di siviglia | Hopscotch (1980), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Hopscotch from 1980 and Mrs. Doubtfire from 1993 feature two of the greatest American comedic actors in Hollywood history, Walter Matthau and Robin Williams, singing this famous aria from one of opera’s most beloved comedies, The Barber of Seville. In Matthau’s scene, he sings along to the aria while driving up to a guarded gate. The guard says to Matthau’s character, ‘Oh, by Mozart!” To which Matthau responds, “No, that’s the other Figaro!”  In Robin Williams’ scene, we see him playing a voice-over actor recording the famous aria for a cartoon.  Williams gives a convincing performance of this renowned aria!

Ruggero Leoncavallo: Vesti la giubba | Pagliacci | The Untouchables (1987), To Rome with Love (1981)

Two films that couldn’t be any different tied together by one of opera’s most famous arias. The Untouchables is an epic piece of cinema from 1987. The story centers around the eventual conviction of mob boss Al Capone. In the scene that features Vesti la giubba, Sean Connery’s character, Jimmy Malone, is shot to death by a Tommy Gun. The aria plays as Jimmy dies but lives just long enough to give the authorities the information needed to bring Al Capone down. Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love is a magical realist comedy set in Rome. Woody Allen’s character, Jerry, is a retired and critically reviled opera director. His daughter’s future Italian father-in-law, Giancarlo, is a singer who can only perform well in the shower. So, of course, Jerry and Giancarlo decide to stage Pagliacci in a matter where a shower is present in every scene.

Georges Bizet: Au fond du temple saint | The Pearl Fishers | Gallipoli (1981)

There is quite a bit of classical music in the soundtrack to Gallipoli including several Strauss waltzes. The film also uses the dramatic Adagio in G Minor for Strings and Organ by Tomaso Albinoni. Part boyhood coming of age story and part war movie, Gallipoli is a touching story about the tragedy of war and the bonds of male friendship. This duet plays as Major Baron sits in his tent the night before the big battle, well knowing he will be sending many young men to their deaths the following morning. The movie is more about the bonds of friendship than war and the text to this beautiful duet from The Pearl Fishers is about how two friends will never be enemies but friends to the death.

Georges Bizet: L’amour est un oiseau rebelle | Carmen | Magnolia (1999), Up (2009)

Magnolia is an epic psychological drama from 1999. The film has many interrelated characters in search of happiness, forgiveness, and meaning in California. Director Paul Thomas Anderson is a true music lover and a master of bringing great pieces of music into his films. This aria from Carmen serves as a humorous transition between two storylines in the film: the boy-genius who recites the original French lyrics and an awkward cup of coffee between an officer on a domestic dispute call and a young woman with a cocaine addiction. Changing gears entirely, Pixar’s Up from 2009 uses an instrumental version of the aria to contrast against the visual storytelling of Carl’s monotonous and lonely life.

Giuseppe Verdi: Sempre libera | La Traviata | Pretty Woman (1990)

“There’s a band!” and thus starts one of the most famous opera scenes in Hollywood history. 1990’s Pretty Woman, directed by Gary Marshall, shows how the power of opera can touch anyone’s life. The scene is unique in that it doesn’t just play one aria but rather several moments from the entirety of the opera. It’s a scene that shows us how opera is relevant to our lives and can bring anybody to feel the raw emotion of live performance.

Leo Delibes: Sous le dôme épais | Lakmé | Someone to Watch Over Me (1987)

Like Gallipoli, Ridley Scott’s Someone to Watch Over Me uses quite a bit of classical music and opera to set the scene. Someone to Watch Over Me is what is known as a “High Concept” movie. “High Concept” is an expression for a plot that can be summarized in one sentence. In the case of Someone to Watch Over Me that sentence is, “Detective from working-class background falls in love with society beauty.” The film features many recognizable and famous pieces of music including the same aria from La Wally featured in Diva. In the scene the features the duet from Lakmé, our detective protagonist has returned to his society beauty’s apartment. He is torn between two beautiful women and hoping for simpler times. The next scene is tense and violent. Someone to Watch Over Me is a fantastic 80s crime-drama-thriller and features great actors including a very young Lorraine Bracco who would go on to play one of the greatest characters in American television history as Doctor Melfi in The Sopranos.

Giuseppe Verdi: La donna e mobile | Rigoletto | The Family Man (2000)

I’m sure many in our audience, and maybe even some of our performers, have had their best aria performances in their underwear! Nickolas Cage does just that in the opening scene of the 2000 romantic comedy-drama, The Family Man.  It’s a feel-good movie about learning to appreciate what really matters in life. Ruby Sparks is a romantic comedy-drama about an anxious novelist whose fictional character, Ruby Sparks, comes to life. In the scene that features La donna è mobile (Woman is fickle), our novelist-protagonist discovers how complicated even a fictional woman he’s created for himself can be.

Camille Saint-Saëns: Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix | Samson et Dalila | The Chocolate Soldier (1941)

The Chocolate Soldier is originally an operetta composed in 1908 by Oscar Straus and based on George Bernard Shaw’s play, Arms and the Man. In 1941 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer wished to make a new film version of the operetta, but George Bernard Shaw refused permission to use his play. So, MGM opted to reset the operetta to a plot from Ferenc Molnár’s play Testor. MGM chose to include four numbers by additional composers, including this number from Samson et Delila by Saint-Saëns and selections by Wagner, Mussorgsky, and Polish film composer Bronislaw Kaper. The scene that features this aria is sung by famous mezzo-soprano Rise Stevens, a star at the Metropolitan Opera in the 1940s and ’50s. Oscar Straus had a fascinating life. His name was originally spelled Strauss, but he changed his name for professional reasons to not be associated with the other musical Strauss family. He studied with Max Bruch in Berlin and became an orchestra conductor. He fled the Nazis in 1939 to Paris where he received the honor of Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur, and then went on to Hollywood.  In addition to writing many operettas, Oscar Straus wrote eleven film scores from 1930 – 1950. The Chocolate Soldier is a fascinating tale of early Hollywood history.

Alfredo Catalani: Ebben? Ne andrò lontana | La Wally | Diva (1981)

Diva is a French thriller film and a cult classic from 1981 and is considered a masterpiece of 1980s French cinema. The plot centers around a young Parisian postman named Jules, who gets tied up in a complicated plot involving mobsters and blackmail. Jules is obsessed with opera and fictional American soprano Cynthia Hawkins who refuses to let anybody record her. Jules attends a recital and makes a bootleg recording of Cynthia singing this beautiful aria from La Wally. After the recital, he steals the gown she wore on stage. The recording is used to blackmail the recording-shy soprano later in the movie. In the movie the aria is sung by American opera singer Wilhemina Wiggins Fernandez, it was her only major motion picture appearance, however, she performed the song “Someone to Watch Over Me” for the film of the same name.

Georges Bizet: Votre toast, je peux vous la render | Carmen | Metropolitan (1935)

The only movie in the collection about opera, Metropolitan, is known as a ‘Back Stage Drama,’ which were popular storylines in Hollywood’s golden age. The plot circles around a prima donna who leaves the Metropolitan Opera to start her own company with leading man Lawrence Tibbett. Tibbett, in real life, was a prominent American opera star at the time and sung at the actual Metropolitan Opera more than 600 times from 1923 to 1950. He was one of the most diverse entertainers of his time, performing in movies, plays, film, radio, and of course, opera. In the scene in question, Tibbett gives a very commanding performance of this famous number from Carmen.

Giacomo Puccini: Un bel di vedremo | Madama Butterfly | Fatal Attraction (1987)

Fatal Attraction, the 1987 psychological thriller, is the story of Dan, a married man who has an affair with a woman named Alex. After the affair ends, Dan, much like Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly, tries to diffuse and ignore the consequences of his selfish decision-making. However, unlike Cio-Cio San, Alex takes a more aggressive approach to try to keep her lover. “Let’s hear it!”

Giacomo Puccini: Nessun Dorma | Turandot | The Witches of Eastwick (1987), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)

The Witches of Eastwick, based on the novel of the same name by John Updike, features some of the biggest Hollywood celebrities of the 1980s; Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer. One of the best movie scenes featuring opera in recent memory, 2015’s Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, uses “Nessun Dorma” and other numbers from Turandot as the musical backdrop to a suspenseful backstage fight and assassination attempt at none other than the Vienna State Opera House!