Opera Meets Film: Three Oscar Nominated Films That Inspired Operas Part 1

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 go through films that were nominated or won Oscars and that eventually became Operas.

It’s Oscar season. We know that most people are looking to get to the movies to catch as many of this year’s nominees as possible, but it’s also fun to look back and see which Academy Award-nominated films have lent themselves as great opera material.

In celebration of the Academy Awards which will be held on March 4, let’s take a look at recent operas that were first Oscar-nominated operas. This is the first of two installments that will feature Oscar film-turned-opera.

Cold Mountain 

In 2003, Anthony Minghella directed a film adaptation of Charles Frazier’s award-winning book with Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellwegger, Natalie Portman, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The movie was among the most acclaimed of the year and went on to be nominated for seven Oscars and won one for Best Supporting Actress.

Twelve years later, Jennifer Higdon and Gene Scheer’s opera version made its world premiere at the Santa Fe Opera garnering rave reviews. Isabel Leonard and Nathan Gunn portrayed the leading roles and the work was eventually performed at Opera Philadelphia and the Minnesota Opera. The commercial recording by Pentatone went on to win the International Opera Awards in London and even obtained a Grammy nomination.

Brokeback Mountain 

In 2005 Ang Lee’s picture was one of the most acclaimed films of the year. Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana adapted the work from Annie Proulx’s beloved short story.  The movie, which starred Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Michelle Williams, went on to win every major award throughout the awards circuit. At the Academy Awards, it was nominated for eight awards and won three including Best Director.

Then in 2014, Proulx and  Charles Wuorinen’s operatic interpretation made its world premiere at the Teatro Real. The work went on to receive a DVD release from Madrid and had its German and Austrian premiere. This season it makes its North American and U.S premiere with the New York City Opera.

Breaking the Waves

Lar Von Triers is considered one of the most controversial directors of his generation. But in 1996 he made the groundbreaking “Breaking the Waves” which earned actress Emily Watson an Oscar nomination and announced her as one of the most promising actresses of her generation.

Twenty years later, the film was adapted into an opera by Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek. “Breaking the Waves” had its premiere in 2016 at Opera Philadelphia and was later presented at the Prototype Festival. David Portillo and Kiera Duffy starred in the work which received rave reviews.


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