Opera Meets Film: How ‘Eugene Onegin’ Creates Character Empathy in ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’

“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 Anthony Minghella’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”

We are around the halfway mark of Anthony Minghella’s famed masterwork “The Talented Mr. Ripley (this writer’s personal favorite of the director’s movies). The titular character Tom Ripley is at the opera watching Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” specifically the scene where Lensky and the titular character face off in a fateful duel.

It’s a rather potent and poignant moment, it’s symbolism within the world of the story rather obvious and effective.

To this point in the story Ripley has already murdered his friend Dickie and is assuming his personality and the audience’s allegiance to the character is rather questionable. Do we root for him to get away with the plan or hope that he gets caught for his behavior before he does any more harm to the people in his world?

Minghella’s inclusion of this scene, in a subtle manner, turns us onto Ripley’s side for what will be the remainder of the film.

Connecting The Dots On and Off Stage

A tight closeup of Lensky singing his mournful and longing aria is juxtaposed with one of Ripley, linking the two men together in their pained emotions. This allows Minghella to set up the next bit from the opera scene, which clinches our identification with the character.

The camera cuts back to the preparations for the duel with wider shots from the audience perspective. It sets the scene as recitative leads us through the buildup to the duel. Then closeups to the characters, Eugene and Lensky, take over as the two men prepare to shoot at one another. And then Minghella pulls his move. Tchaikovsky’s strings start building up in tension, the hysterical music growing and growing as the camera cranes in furiously through the audience in the opera house toward Ripley. As the camera draws closer, the music builds in tension. We feel as if the frenzy were the emotions not only felt onstage but in Ripley’s mind. A cutaway to Onegin right as the instruments reach the climax prepares us for the shot. And just as it happens, Minghella finishes the push-in toward Ripley, the off-screen blast causing him to squirm in his seat.

The immediate reaction is to consider how he might be connecting the death onstage with his own murder of Dickie, but it might also be seen as Ripley killing something far more important – a part of himself.

Double Personalities

As noted, Lensky and Ripley are linked at the start of the scene by their juxtaposition through the aria; Lenksy representing a romantic longing and idealism in the Tchaikovsky opera, characteristics which Ripley undeniably has, especially in his relationship with Dickie.

We’ve also seen him split his personality rather outwardly, assuming the role of Dickie and Ripley at the same time. We all know that Ripley is an outsider, a social outcast, much in the same way that the rich Onegin is a misanthropic figure that can’t quite find any satisfaction with society.

When Onegin murders Lensky, he eliminates his only friend, the only truly grounding force in his existence. And the murder haunts him for the remainder of the opera. When Ripley murders Dickie, he doesn’t just destroy a friend but also destroys an innocent part of himself. He is no longer just a strange and awkward kid. For the audience, he has just turned into a murderer.

But with this opera scene, Minghella reminds the audience that the character himself is no complete and unempathetic monster. He also has the potential for suffering and his actions, more than harming other people, might be doing more damage to his own psyche. We confirm this as the story continues.

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About the Author

David Salazar

Prior to creating OperaWire, DAVID SALAZAR, (Editor-in-Chief) worked as a reporter for Latin Post where he interviewed major opera stars including Placido Domingo, Anna Netrebko, Vittorio Grigolo, Diana Damrau and Rolando Villazon among others. His 2014 interview with opera star Kristine Opolais was cited in a New York Times Review.

He also had the opportunity of interviewing numerous Oscar nominees, Golden Globe winners and film industry giants such as Guillermo del Toro, Oscar Isaac and John Leguizamo among others.

David holds a Masters in Media Management from Fordham University. During his time at Fordham, he studied abroad at the Jagiellonian University in Poland. He also holds a dual bachelor’s from Hofstra University in Film Production and Journalism.

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