Opera Meets Film: Opera Stars Who Created Iconic Cinema Roles

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, given the start of summer season, we have decided to do something a bit fun presenting some major singers who created memorable film roles. 

Throughout the years, opera has been implemented in cinema in many ways. Many of the most famous pieces have been used for soundtracks while many singers from the likes of Renee Fleming, Leontina Vaduva, Anna Netrebko, Joseph Calleja, and Aida Garfiullina have appeared onscreen performing. However, there are some singers who have made a big impact in Hollywood, taking on important roles in many movies. Here is a look.

William Shimell 

A leading baritone in the world, Shimell made an unexpected transition onto the silverscreen when he was cast in Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy” alongside Juliette Binoche. The film earned rave reviews and competed for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. He later appeared in Claudia Llosa’s “Aloft” alongside Jennifer Connelly and was also seen in the Oscar-winning film “Amour” by Michael Haneke.

Fabio Armiliato 

The Italian tenor played the role of Giancarlo in Woody’s Allen “To Rome with Love.” In the film, he played an opera singer who was only good in the shower. Despite mixed reviews for the film, Armiliato and his co-stars were praised for their performances and the Casting Society of America nominated the film for outstanding Ensemble casting. Since then the singer has not been seen in any other film.

Maria Callas

Arguably the greatest icon in opera, Maria Callas can be heard on numerous film soundtracks from “Avengers” to “Milk” and “The Young Victoria.” But she can also be seen in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s adaptation of “Medea.” It was a big return for the diva and while the film was a flop, one got to see the nuance and subtleties of Callas as an actress on the silver screen.

Katia Ricciarelli

When the Italian soprano ended her opera career, she went on to become a movie star with her first film “La Seconda notte di nozze,” competing at the Venice Film Festival. While it did not win at the festival, the film went on to be a hit in Italy and the soprano took home the Best Actress award at the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists. She went on to make a number of TV movies, TV shows, and other films including “Black and White,” “The Friends at the Margherita Cafe,” and “La sedia della felicità.”

Galina Vishnevskaya

The great Russian diva made her onscreen debut in  Aleksandr Sokurov’s “Aleksandra.” The Russian director’s film was a critical hit competing at the Cannes Film Festival and later winning numerous international awards. Vishnevskaya herself would win a Best Actress award at the Russian Guild of Film Critics. It would be her one and only film credit. 

Joan Sutherland

The Australian superstar made one film appearance in “Dad and Dave: On Our Selection,” an Australian folk film that was made to honor Australia’s centenary of film and cinema.

Mario Lanza

Mario Lanza was on the verge of major operatic career when a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in August 1947 had brought Lanza to the attention of Louis B. Mayer, who promptly signed him to a seven-year film contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He went on to make several films including “The Toast of New Orleans,” “The Great Caruso,” “The Student Prince,”  and “Serenade.”  

Did we miss anyone?



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