High Notes Opera Meets Film

Opera Meets Film: How the Oscar-Winning ‘La La Land’ Pays Subtle Homage to Opera

Opera Meets Filmis 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 weeks installment is the OscarwinningLa La Land.”

It’s a “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of moment. But it’s there.

As the camera dollies by the traffic jam at the start of “La La Land,” we hear, albeit very briefly, the final choral passage from Act one of Verdi’s La Traviata.”

Then it disappears never to be heard again.

What’s fascinating here is what else we hear in this opening of the Oscar-winning film by director Damien Chazelle. We hear radios switching to other music of a wide-range of genres before eventually, the move kicks into full gear with its celebrated opening musical number.

So what exactly is the purpose of “La Traviata” in all this? It doesn’t really relate thematically to “La La Land” unless we connect the fact that both stories center on the relationships between a young man and a young woman.

The use of “La Traviata” is incidental to Chazelle’s overall vision for this opening act and by extension his whole film.

“La La Land” is nothing if not a convergence of homages to different art forms. To the movie musical. To jazz. To Hollywood itself. To romantic comedies.

And that is exactly what we see at the opening of the film – the camera whizzing by a bunch of cars with a smorgasbord of musical offerings all leading the way ever slowly to the music that will transform into that opening number. Chazelle is reminding the view not only that the world of his story is full of diversity, but the art form he is tackling owes a great deal to the diverse art forms that came before it.

Because ultimately on the face of it, the movie musical is just an evolution of opera in the same vein as the musical is. “La La Land” features a wide range of musical numbers to explore differing emotional states of their characters. There is even a grand love duet that even combines dance choreography. At the climax of the movie, our heroine Mia gets an “aria.”

It’s not the same artform, but it certainly comes from a similar place and idea.

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