Recommend Opera Movies

I just got a finance job with an opera company and need to start getting my opera knowledge beyond “Carmen” and “What’s Opera, Doc?”. What are some of the best movies out there about opera, or filmed operas, or opera docos? I recently saw “Sing Faster: The Stagehand’s Ring Cycle” and loved it.

I know there are some fans, and IIRC I thought there were one or two performers among the teeming millions, so help a girl out who has only a light and sketchy knowledge but an interest in learning.

Are you looking for operas that were specifically filmed as movies, or merely video recordings of performances?

I heartily recommend Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffmann. It is gorgeous for both eye and ear. It features Moira Shearer and Robert Helpmann.

If you’ve ever seen The Red Shoes, (another Michael Powell vehicle that Turner Classic Movies shows now and again) you’ll have some idea what you’re in for. But in my opinion, The Tales of Hoffmann is far superior, even if it is less well known.

I don’t know if it ever came out on DVD. I have a VHS copy.

There was a film a few years ago about the stagehands/background singers for the San Francisco Opera “In the Shadows of the Stars”.

Ingmar Bergman did a nice version of The Magic Flute

If you haven’t seen Amadeus, please check it out. Parts of Mozart’s operas are beautifully featured.

(And I know that Topsy Turvy is about operetta–Gilbert & Sullivan, in fact. But it’s an excellent view of Putting On A Show.)

Diva was a funky French caper film with some good opera scenes.

The BBC did a documentary of the Solti Vienna Philharmonic Ring.

Cosi - Australian film about the production of Cosi Fan Tutti by residents of a mental hospital.

Aria is an anthology film with 10 different opera short films directed by 10 different famous directors. When it’s bad, it’s not too good, but there are some very beautiful moments, too–and the music selected is quite diverse.

Thanks for the great suggestions. I’ve seen a couple and will see about hunting up the rest.

If it’s available in your location, you might also want to check out one of the Metropolitan Opera’s live simulcasts at local movie theaters.

Don’t try to fake it.

These guys will spot a fraud. The idiot who can’t work Excel on the desk over? She can spot a fraud. She probably graduated with a BMus and specialised in 19th Century Opera.

So do a good job. Do what you know well (which I assume is finance), and make the opera stuff your evening research. I can think of worse things to be stuck with when the missus insists on a night alone…

Both The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffmann are available on DVD.

There is a beautifully-made movie version of La Traviata from 1982 starring Teresa Stratas and Placido Domingo, directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

I particularly like the movie version of Carmen with Julia Migenes from 1984. The singing may not be up to everyone’s standard, but it’s still my favorite.

If you want to see any comic light opera, watch The Pirates of Penzance with Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline (the 1983 movie, not the 1982 filmed stage version). They take quite a few liberties, but I still like it better than other versions.

Or far, far better is Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy, a film that recreates in astonishing detail the world of Victorian theater and of Gilbert and Sullivan themselves. It’s a meditation on the creative and collaborative processes, and features a lot of music from Gilbert and Sullivan, including some of their lesser-known works.

The OP isn’t trying to “fake” anything. She just wants to further her education.

Meeting Venus with Glenn Close was a very entertaining film about an attempt to stage a Eurozone production of Tannhäuser. I don’t know how much it will further your musical education (although some of the characterizations of opera singers are disturbingly spot on) but it’s a good film anyway.

I’ll second the Bergman Magic Flute and likewise recommend the Met broadcasts for general performances. And finally, although it’s not a video, get thee to Anna Russell’s 15-minute version of the Ring cycle. It is both true and deeply, deeply funny. And available on CD.

PBS has a documentary called “The Audition” that was about the finalists for a spot in the NY Metropolitan Opera. It will give you an idea about what the singers go through.

The Met has released some of their HD-transmitted operas on DVD. They were very well done, and the staging budget doesn’t get much higher that the Met, so it’s pretty impressive. The level of talent goes without saying.

There’s a lovely Zeffirelli movie version of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. Recommended!

A Night At The Opera is one of my favorites.