Top 5 Oscar-Nominated Films that Would Make Great Operas

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - 10:00 AM

Joaquin Phoenix in Spike Jones's film 'Her' Joaquin Phoenix in Spike Jones's film 'Her'

Last month Charles Wuorinen’s opera Brokeback Mountain premiered in Madrid. An operatic version of the Meryl Streep vehicle, "Sophie’s Choice," first played the Royal Opera House in 2002. And Jake Heggie’s first opera, Dead Man Walking, came on the heels of the 1996 movie of the same name.

The silver screen has been a source of inspiration for opera composers more and more frequently. On the eve of the Oscars, here are five of this year’s Academy Award-nominated films we believe could be sung on the stage:

1. Her

Doomed love affairs are the stuff on which operas are made, and the unconventional one in Spike Jonze’s "Her" between a man, Theodore, and his artificially intelligent software, Samantha, is a doozy. Though one of the characters may not be “real” the emotions certainly are; less convincing romances have begotten great operas. If Nico Muhly can devise an Internet chorus for his cyberdrama Two Boys, a creative composer could certainly figure out how to write for one disembodied voice.


2. Dallas Buyer’s Club

Texans with larger than life personalities are not new to opera (see Anna Nicole) and Ron Woodroof, the AIDS-afflicted antihero of "Dallas Buyer’s Club," seems cut for the opera stage. A morally complex character on par with a self-righteous Don Giovanni, Woodroof was motivated to find medications that would save himself and ended up prolonging the lives of thousands of others. Meanwhile, Woodroof’s business partner Rayon, a transsexual woman also afflicted with AIDS, is a natural fit for opera—a genre that’s embraced gender ambiguity since its inception.


3. Gravity

Steven Price’s spare but haunting score for "Gravity" is nominated for an Academy Award and makes this eerie movie about an astronaut stranded in space even more terrifying. The astronaut, Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone, encounters physical and emotional struggles reminiscent of monodramas such as Schoenberg’s Erwartung or Kurt Weill’s The Lindberg Flight. Certainly, a technical wiz such as Robert Lapage could create a dazzling spacescape for the stage.


4. 20 Feet from Stardom

The documentary "20 Feet from Stardom" is about the women who sang backup for the Rolling Stones, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, and other rock 'n' roll legends, is primed for a classical overhaul. These women were unheralded for most of their careers even though their voices helped sell millions of albums. The trope about the talented performer just outside of the limelight has worked on Broadway and the movies, so why not opera? 


5. The Great Beauty

Rome is the setting in Italy’s nomination for best foreign language film, "The Great Beauty." This city that inspired Monteverdi and Puccini still carries the same charm centuries later. The film follows Jep, a 65-year-old writer who is a cross between Offenbach’s E.T.A. Hoffman and an older version of Verdi’s Duke of Mantua, as he ambles through the city and encounters a series of memorable characters (the movie's own soundtrack features several classical works, by Bizet, Part and Tavener, among others).

Weigh in: Which movie do you think would best benefit from the opera treatment? Please add your selection in the comments below.


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Comments [17]

How about "Nebraska" as opera buffo, and "Philadelphia" as serious???

Mar. 04 2014 10:27 AM
danfling from Terry, Mississippi

I think that the screenplay of Yentl would be an excellent opera.

Mar. 03 2014 10:36 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Casablanca. It started out as a play entitled Ricks Place, I believe. Would not be too expensive to mount.

Mar. 01 2014 07:29 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Johnny Guitar. What a bitch-fest. Who could ever forget Mercedes McCambridge and Joan Crawford in that one. Too bad Maria Callas is no longer with us.

Feb. 28 2014 03:14 PM
David from Virginia

It wasn't a film but I think that the series, Breaking Bad would make for a great opera. Can you imagine Walter White singing the aria, "It isn't over till I say it's over"?

If they can make an opera about Jerry Springer then no subject is off the table.

Feb. 28 2014 11:26 AM
marianne Grosso

Sorry for not editing my comments....too much in a hurry and not enough relaxing...thank you

Feb. 28 2014 10:48 AM
marianne Grosso

Hi, I think Pride and Prejudice and a shorten version of Downton...War, love Family probles There are so many good books that we shoulf not fall for movies especially like Gravity. ...what could be better?

Feb. 28 2014 10:29 AM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Philomena is also anti-Catholic. But that's OK. Years ago, in America, babies born out of wedlock were taken away in some states. Aileen Wourmos(?) I think was her name, who was executed in Florida, had her baby taken away because the child was out of wedlock. And over one hundred years ago, Catholic children were put on trains and taken west to be adopted by good Protestants and work for farm families. We have enough cruelty in our own history.

Feb. 28 2014 10:07 AM
Joanna from East Brunswick NJ

"Philomena" is tragic, but there is forgiveness at the end.Unwed motherhood, incarceration by the infamous Magdelene Sisters, forced adoption and subsequent disappearance of the child and a mother's search (AND unknown to her, the son's search) for her child and how it all ends up....and who the son turned out to be...all elements for a solid opera plot.

Feb. 28 2014 12:11 AM
SFR Daniel from Ireland

1. and 3. Absolutely not. The essence of each of them depends on something that would be a disaster to try to put onstage.

Feb. 27 2014 04:46 PM
Robert St.Onge from Cochiti Lake,NM

"Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" Renee Fleming and Susan Graham can argue who's going to be Bette or Joan. However it would turn out, it would be fun.

Feb. 27 2014 12:30 PM

How about Pride and Prejudice? It's got romance, varied characters and drama, plus a happy ending.

Re: your suggestions, I don't see how a computer could sing or how an astronaut could sing through a helmet very well.

Feb. 27 2014 11:11 AM
Patricia G. Gerresheim from West Shokan

I think 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' would make a fine opera, but something closer to the book than either of the film adaptations. The scene in the garden, when Percy Blakeney realizes he still loves his wife, would make a powerful aria.

Feb. 26 2014 11:01 PM
Robert St.Onge from Cochiti Lake,NM

A Correction: The director's name is 'Lepage", not Lapage. An emphatic "tsk,tsk" from this irate French-Canadian music lover.

Feb. 26 2014 02:50 PM
Max from Northern NJ

"A Separation" would make a compelling opera.

Synopsis (it's okay - no spoilers): Middle class couple, one daughter (young teen), his father has advanced Alzheimer's, mom wants to leave the country with daughter, husband says no, mom wants a divorce, husband says no, they separate, daughter stays with dad, hoping that might help them get back together.

Dad hires a maid to help with his dad. Problems arise when maid lies about a "medical condition". Maid's unemployed, debt-ridden husband doesn't know she took the job and would forbid it if he did know, but ends up wanting the job for himself.

Situation goes legal, gets very sticky and messy as more facts are slowly revealed.

If you haven't seen the film and this sounds at all interesting to you, do give it a go. You won't be disappointed.

Feb. 25 2014 04:55 PM
Cheri Spicer from Indiana

Add August Osage County!

Feb. 25 2014 02:38 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

The Usual Suspects had elements of opera buffa. Pale Rider. Interview with the Vampire had a very operatic score.

Feb. 25 2014 11:22 AM

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