Opera Meets Film: How ‘Tosca’s’ ‘Vissi d’Arte’ Provides Symbolism & Transcendent Life to ‘Lola Vers la Mer’

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 film section or a film in its entirety and highlight 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 Larent Micheli’s “Lola vers la mer.”

Tosca’s “Vissi d’arte” is one of the most breathtaking arias in all of opera. Not only is a major low point for the titular character of Puccini’s opera, all of her suffering made incarnate in a rising whirl of melody, but it is also a prayer of sorts to a higher being, a cry for help.

Tosca questions why after dedicating herself to art, love, and faith, she should be made to suffer so much. In essence, what has she done to deserve such a horrid fate in her life?

It’s a moment that speaks for anyone that has undergone hardships and unfair circumstances in a world full of injustice.

The titular character of “Lola vers la mers” certainly feels much the way that Tosca does.

Lola, an 18-year-old transgender woman, has just lost her mother, the only person in her family that understood and cared for her. She breaks into her intolerant father’s house and takes her mother’s urn.

Unfortunately, that victory is short-lived because her father immediately heads to the shelter where she’s been living and takes back the urn.

Lola is faced with the choice of letting him bury the urn alone or taking a journey with him to a seaside house where she spent many memorable (and less memorable) childhood days. She opts for the latter.

Their trip starts off on the starkest of beats with them unable to find much common ground. Then they drive into a storm.

Philippe, Lola’s father, turns on his wife’s iPod and prepares to put a song on the radio. The iPod malfunctions and lands on Maria Callas’ iconic recording of “Vissi d’arte.”

Time seemingly stops as the aria plays with the camera focusing primarily on a few shots of Phillipe and Lola, both in their own worlds, and yet connecting for the first time across the music. In a way, the aria speaks of both of their feelings. Lola is Tosca – she’s been her authentic self and all she’s received is rejection from her father and the loss of her mother.

Philippe is a proverbial Scarpia in this story, but he’s also suffering; he can’t understand his daughter and is struggling to come to terms with the situation. In his mind, he did everything to be the best father possible and yet, he’s slowly discovering that he’s been lied to by his wife and that he is now completely alone in his ideas about his daughter. As such, he’s confused and at a loss on how to handle the situation.

At the apex, the camera cuts out of the car to wider shots of the landscape as we watch a thunderstorm unfold, eventually rising up into the heavens and focusing on the clouds as the iconic soprano brings one of her signature arias to an emotional close.

While the initial segments of the sequence suggest the coming battle the two characters will endure together on this road trip, while also suggesting a common bond for the first time in the film, the latter portion of the scene, where the image takes on a more universal quality.

The storm itself is symbolic in many ways, but it’s visual execution, with stylized lightning suggests a magical realm, something merely suggested in this instance but seemingly later confirmed at the climax of the movie when the malfunctioning iPod explodes, burning the car to smithereens. It is a momentary visual shift from the gritty naturalism of the film’s style to something completely different in intent. It takes out of the movie for sure, but toward something deeper and more unknowable.

So what does it mean?

One could intuit that in these moments, it is the mother herself speaking to her beloved family members. Afterall, it is her iPod that selects the aria in a rather odd manner. And you could see why she’d make such an appeal. She, afterall, is the one who died from illness without her daughter by her side and while lying to her husband. In a way, you can intuit that she is trapped (perhaps inside the symbolic and ever-present urn), a ghost with unfinished business calling out to her loved ones through the transcendent power of music.

Latter sequences employ more popular songs in a similar vein, further accentuating the increased connection between Lola and Philippe and perhaps even expressing the feelings of the mother.

It’s a deft stylistic choice that allows the film to not only comment on the main conflict between its two central characters, but also provide insight and even life, to another, essential third character.



Opera Meets Film