Opera Meets Film: ‘A Star Is Born’s’ Subtle Nod to Opera’s Influence

By David Salazar

“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 Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born.”

Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” is full of music throughout and one might even call the film an “opera” of sorts in how the musical language employed is precisely an expression of the emotional journey that its characters engage throughout the film (“Remember us This Way” or “Shallow” are as operatic as it gets given their context in the film).

So it isn’t really a surprise to suddenly find opera placed in a couple of spots in the film, in rather subtle manner. In fact, it’s almost a situation where you might miss altogether if you don’t listen closely enough.

There are two sections where a tenor voice is heard faintly in the background and they are both transcendent moments for Ally (Lady Gaga literally birthing what should be a successful film career) and her relationship with Jack, played by Bradley Cooper.

The first such instance is right before she heads over to the fateful concert that will change her life. She’s at home with her father; he’s trying to convince her to accept Jack’s invitation to go to his concert, but she’s having none of it. As they navigate around the house, we hear “Recondita Armonia” in the background, the aria that Cavaradossi sings as he comments on the beauty of Tosca’s physical features. This is a subtle callback to Ally’s earlier comments that she keeps getting rejected because people in the music industry don’t like her nose; Jack notes during their initial flirtations that he loves her nose and subsequent scenes play up this motif.

The second such instance of an operatic voice, this one fainter still, comes right before the event that will shake both Ally and Jack’s lives for good. Now in her new home, but also accompanied by her father, Ally prepares herself for the Grammys. Jack is there as well and underneath the scene, we hear another operatic voice, this one intoning a lied. The ensuing Grammys ceremony is ultimately the ending of their relationship, Jack getting so drunk that he can’t control his bladder and winds up embarrassing himself in front of the whole nation. The next time we see him, he’s in a rehabilitation center but the damage has been done and a few scenes later, he will completely sever his relationship with Ally in the cruelest of manners.

This film, while emphasizing the rise of a career, is ultimately the tragedy of a man who can’t defeat an illness that dominates him. There is a degree of melodrama in the film’s narrative trappings and style (it’s a film full of musical numbers) that would certainly not feel out of place in an opera and the film itself seems to acknowledge the connection in this manner. It’s a subtle, but poignant understanding of the tradition and lineage that a film like “A Star is Born” is following. In the context of this film’s own narrative structure – opera lifts us up and also brings us way down emotionally.


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