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:
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.
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.