Opera Meets Film: How An Aria From ‘Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail’ Provides Emotional & Cinematic Depth To A Transitional Moment In ‘Acusada’By David Salazar
(Credit: Warner Bros. / A Bofill)
“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 Gonzalo Tobal’s “Acusada.”
After years and years of being accused of the murder of her best friend Camila, Dolores heads to the first day of the trial that will define her future.
As the characters line the courthouse in a very slow buildup, we hear the gentle strings introducing Konstanze’s “Welcher Wechsel herrscht” from Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail.” Throughout this entire sequence, we hear the soprano’s pained recitative, the music cutting off right before the aria “Traurigkeit ward mir zum Loose” begins.
The choice of music works on a number of different levels for the film’s narrative and emotional context. The setup for its inconclusion, unlike that of other films that employ opera, is very carefully measured with the Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 1 used earlier in the film. As such, the sudden appearance of classical music and an operatic voice doesn’t surprise the audience so much as give a sense of deeper immersion in the emotional journey of its character. It thus feels like a natural progression from an abstract instrument to a human voice.
Thematically, the aria employs a clear parallel between the film and opera’s major characters. In the Mozart opera, Konstanze is lamenting her separation from her beloved Belmonte and the freedom that she would gain from such a reunion with her past. Dolores is haunted by the death of her best friend and fights for her freedom throughout the film. The two women ultimately achieve this freedom when they are reunited with this past and overcome the current difficult circumstances. In Konstanze’s case, she is reunited with Belmonte, while Dolores reveals and confronts her truth regarding how she experienced Camila’s murder. As such, any connosieur of the opera and its music might, in hearing it in the context of the film, view its inclusion at the narrative midpoint, as foreshadowing of the ending.
But in the moment, the experience itself allows the audience to get a deeper feeling for Dolores’ state of mind. A yearning and weeping opera voice, specifically a woman’s, playing non-diegetically as we watch Dolores take in the atmosphere of the court immediately puts us in her mindset. The laments thus become her laments and their increasing agitation allows the viewer to further sense how her emotions are building. This is substantiated with the visuals. We see Camila’s mother walk into the court through Dolores’ perspective, the music highlighting how difficult it is going to be for her to confront people that she once loved and appreciated her.
The sequence moves at a slower pace, which adds to the tension for Dolores. But this only works because of the music; without it, the slower pace would drag what is essentially a extended transitional sequence establishing a narrative point. One could imagine the film achieving this far quicker and highlight Dolores’ emotions and apprehension through the trial. But this is an example of how opera can not only allow certain moments to linger cinematically, but also give them emotional profundity.