“Opera Meets Film” is a feature dedicated to exploring the way that opera has been employed in cinema. We will select a section or a film in its entirety, highlighting the impact that utilizing the operatic form or sections from an opera can alter our perception of a film that we are viewing. This week’s installment we will go through films that were nominated or won Oscars and that eventually became Operas.
It’s Oscar season. We know that most people are looking to get to the movies to catch as many of this year’s nominees as possible, but it’s also fun to look back and see which Academy Award-nominated films have lent themselves as great opera material.
The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinback’s novel has been a classic of modern literature since its release so it was no surprise that the book was quickly adapted into the 1940s Oscar-winning film by John Ford. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, the film went on to win two for Best Director and Best Supporting Actress.
With its unforgettable characters and moving story the book was soon turned into an opera by composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Michael Korie. In 2007, the opera went on to make its world premiere at the Minnesota Opera and was later performed at the Utah Opera, the American Symphony Orchestra, and Opera Theatre Saint Louis, among others.
In 1978, Ingmar Bergman teamed up with Ingrid Bergman for one of his greatest achievements. The film about the relationship between mother and daughter received two Academy Award nominations for both Bergmans. The director was nominated for Best Screenplay while the actress was nominated for her lead role.
The film’s resonance has continued since and 29 years later composer Sebastian Fagerlund and librettist Gunilla Hemming adapted the work into an opera specifically composed for Anne Sofie Von Otter. The opera had its world premiere in September 2017 at the Finnish Opera and was live streamed worldwide on OperaVision.
Dead Man Walking
In 1993, Helen Prejean wrote an impactful book that was immediately adapted into an Oscar-winning film by Tim Robbins. Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn played the leading roles in the film which went on to be nominated for four Academy Awards. Sarandon’s powerful performance would win her the Best Actress award.
The book’s impact continued to resound and Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally went on to adapt it for the opera. Heggie’s masterpiece is arguably the most performed modern opera in the world and since its world premiere at the San Francisco Opera in 2000, the work has been showcase at every major U.S theater except New York (though it has been reported that that is about to change). It even made its European debut in Germany and was later showcased in Spain, Austria, and the U.K.
The 2005 Christian Carion film “Joyeux Noel” opened at the Cannes Film Festival to rave reviews and quickly went on to be an awards favorite getting nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. Interestingly enough, the film includes Rolando Villazon and Natalie Dessay performing music specifically composed for the movie.
The universal themes of the story of peace at wartime were later the inspiration behind Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell’s 2011 award-winning “Silent Night.” The opera made its world premiere at the Minnesota Opera and later went on to be performed at Opera Philadelphia. This season it will have its U.K premiere and will be performed by numerous companies in celebration of World War I’s centennial.
The Manchurian Candidate
Richard Condon’s novel was the inspiration for not one film, but two films. The first came from 1962 and today is considered a classic for Frank Sinatra’s riveting performance. However, it was Angela Lansbury’s performance and Ferris Webster’s editing that took home Oscar nominations. A remake came in 2004 and while Meryl Streep was nominated for the Golden Globe and BAFTA, the movie failed to get Oscar nominations.
Eleven years after the remake, Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell’s version of the Richard Condon novel ended up on the stage of the Minnesota Opera. The opera obtained rave reviews and demonstrated why Puts is hailed as one of the greatest of his generation.
David Cronenberg is known as one of the great directors of the horror genre who has made some classics as “The Fly.” The 1986 film, which was based on the short story by George Langelaan, haunted audiences when it was released for its depiction of a man turning into a giant man/fly hybrid. The film’s makeup went on to win the Oscar.
The film’s popularity was so immense that the Théâtre du Châtelet commissioned Howard Shore, the original film’s composer and librettist David Henry Hwang to write an opera loosely based on the film and on the short story. It went on to premiere in 2008 before heading to the LA Opera for its U.S premiere. Plácido Domingo conducted the premiere. Interestingly David Cronenberg directed the operatic production alongside Oscar-winning set designer Dante Ferretti.
Before Night Falls
The life of Cuban poet and novelist Reynaldo Arenas was beautifully depicted in Julian Schnabel’s adaptation of Arenas’ memoir and the documentary “Havana.” The film went on to get Javier Bardem his first Oscar nomination and it saw Schnabel emerge as a promising filmmaker.
Then in 2005, Jorge Martín and Dolores M. Koch adapted the memoir and developed it for its 2010 world premiere at the Fort Worth Opera. It would later be performed at the Florida Grand Opera and would become one of the few operas to explore gay themes.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Frank Capra’s 1946 film is considered one of the greatest films of all time for its themes and its magical performances by James Stewart. When it was released, the movie went on to get nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. While it took home none, the movie’s resonance still lives on and 60 years later the movie would be turned into an opera.
Gene Scheer and Jake Heggie adapted the Christmas classic into an opera that made its world premiere at the Houston Grand with William Burden and Andrea Carroll. Patrick Summers conducted the opera which is set to make its San Francisco premiere next season.