Opera Meets Film: Opera Legends Hollywood Is Obsessed With

By Francisco 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 we will take a look at the singers who have been portrayed in Hollywood. 

Biopics have been the subject of many figures in Hollywood leading to many awards-worthy performances. In terms of opera singers being portrayed in Hollywood, the list is quite slim but there are a few singers who have consistently been looked at in Hollywood whether through a documentary or a fictionalized biopic. Here is a look.

Maria Callas

While Maria Callas did have a crack at Hollywood in Pasolini’s film “Medea,” the soprano has since been an obsession in Hollywood as the subject of many pictures. Franco Zeffirelli, who long admired her and worked with her on the iconic “Tosca” from the Covent Garden, made a biopic about her starring Fanny Ardant as the legendary diva. The film also starred Joan Plowright and Jeremy Irons.

The soprano was also portrayed by Paz Vega in “Grace of Monaco” and this year a documentary entitled “Maria By Callas” is slated for release.

Enrico Caruso

After Callas, Enrico Caruso is yet another operatic legend Hollywood has become obsessed with. In 1951, Mario Lanza portrayed the great singer in a film that showed his trajectory and included some of the great roles Caruso sang.

Caruso was later portrayed by Joseph Calleja in “The Immigrant” in a scene where the tenor sang from “La Rondine.”

Florence Foster Jenkins 

It’s hard to know whether or not to consider Jenkins an opera singer but she sure was a huge patron of the arts and did a highly publicized recital singing opera. And Hollywood has been obsessed with her lately. First Meryl Streep portrayed what most consider the worst opera singer in history in “Florence Foster Jenkins” and was nominated for the Oscar.

At the same time, a French film “Marguerite” was released and it was also inspired by Jenkins life. Joyce DiDonato also portrayed Jenkins in a documentary entitled “The Florence Foster Jenkins story,” which was released in Europe.

Mozart and Beethoven 

Technically not operatic singers but composers famous for their operas, especially Mozart. “Amadeus” is, of course, the most famous biopic about Mozart as it won the Oscar and until today is still praised as a masterpiece. The movie also features multiple scenes from “The Magic Flute” and “Don Giovanni.”

The composer was also showcased in the little-seen “Mozart’s Sister.”

Meanwhile, Beethoven has also been the subject of multiple films including “Copying Beethoven” with Ed Harris. Gary Oldman also portrayed the composer in “Immortal Beloved”

Who did we miss? What other opera legends have been portrayed on film?


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