“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 features Sam Mendes’“Spectre.”
Not too long ago, we took a look at how “Quantum of Solace” beautifully employed “Tosca” in a key action sequence. The film, as noted in said article was not one of the greatest quality, particularly when compared with the two Bond films immediately before and after it. The same happens in Sam Mendes’ “Spectre” which also utilizes opera, though in a radically different way than “Quantum of Solace.”
There are two distinct instances in which the operatic voice takes centerstage on the musical soundtrack. The first of these comes in the first half when Bond saves Lucia, the wife of a crime lord he recently murdered. It’s night and she is walking through her mansion. The camera tracks with her and on the soundtrack we hear the voice of Andreas Scholl singing “Cum Dederit” by Vivaldi. The mourning vocal lines set a tone of darkness and yearning. But it isn’t aimed at eliciting tension. The visuals supply this. What the music ultimately does instead is express the romantic allure of Lucia, played by the legendary Monica Bellucci. It also prepares the audience for what we know comes next – a romantic scene between this lady and our hero.
The other major instance of opera in the film comes in a completely different fashion. Bond is driving away from the villainous Hinx who is in hot pursuit. Suddenly they turn into an alleyway and Bond meets his match – a civilian just driving calmly home. The music playing on the radio? The brindisi from “La Traviata” as performed by Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti. The music counterpoints the tension-filled sequence and corresponding soundtrack, emphasizing the comedic elements of the contrast. “Spectre,” as opposed to the preceding films featuring Daniel Craig as Bond, really tries to feature campy humor, a wink at earlier films in the franchise. Regardless of your feelings about this approach, Mendes’ intent is clear and this sequence is a perfect example of that. Since the sequence is set in Italy, it is no surprise that Mendes chooses the first thing most people might associate with the country – opera (that is also likely one of the reasons that we hear the Vivaldi in the Bellucci sequence again and the never hear opera again for the balance of the movie). Stereotypical as it may seem, it is likely more aimed at quickly immersing the viewer in Italy.
What is also interesting about this sequence and the choice of “Libiamo,” a toast to new love (Violetta and Alfredo are meeting for the first time), is that this insertion follows Bond’s meeting with Oberhauser, the head of Spectre and his new adversary. As is the case with Alfredo and Violetta, who meet at a big party, Bond meets his match at a party as well. Instead of the celebration we see in “Traviata,” the meeting is one of hate and danger. The music’s celebratory theme grates against the violence and anger inherent in the action.