Opera Meets Film: ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’s’ Faint Appearance in James Gunn’s “Guardian of the Galaxy’

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 James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

There are a lot of blink and you’ll miss it moments where opera appears in film. But in James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” you might not even hear it at all.

It’s actually a rather brief excerpt from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.” Yondu is trying to find Peter Quill, who has the orb that everyone is after and he’s appeared at the Broker’s store to find out what happened. During their confrontation, if you listen ever so closely, you’ll catch glimpses of
Lucia’s mad scene playing faintly in the background.

I will come forward and note that the inclusion of “Lucia” really has no thematic relevance to the story. One might add that the film itself is a conglomeration of madness, which might justify the inclusion of Lucia’s mad scene. But it seems like a stretch, especially when you consider that Gunn doesn’t really seem interested in having the music become a major presence of the scene (especially when you consider how prominent music is in the overall approach to the film at large). Being diegetic, it obviously serves to identify the Broker as a serious character with a vastly different musical taste from that of protagonist Peter and his obsession with more popular music from decades past. It’s almost a subliminal approach. We are made conscious enough of the music to deliver a quick connection to the character it supports.

What is interesting here is how the music blends with the sound mix and is still audible amidst everything else. Donizetti has the soprano move quite amply into the vocal stratosphere and it is when the soprano in the recording hits the higher notes that we become aware of the music in the background. When she descends, the music becomes faint. Had Gunn picked an operatic selection where the singer does not spend as much time at such high pitches, it is likely we don’t manage to make out the music, much less identify it.

Ironically, in a film dominated by music, it still remains rather baffling that opera not only gets an appearance but when it does, you barely notice it.


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