Thursday, August 27, 2015


You probably know more opera music than you think you do. If you like to watch TV or go to the movies, you’ve undoubtedly heard music from operas used in ways the original composers could never have even imagined. We’ve raided the Seattle Opera archives to put together a playlist featuring some of opera’s greatest hits—tunes you may already know because you’ve heard them in the cinema.

From Apocalypse Now: Ride of the Valkyries (Die Walküre)
Francis Ford Coppola used the “Ride of the Valkyries,” famous music from the second opera of the Ring cycle, not for Wagner’s Norse goddesses of death but for American helicopters dealing out death from above in Vietnam in Apocalypse Now. It made for a brilliant, chilling moment—opera music used not just for emotional effect but as part of a film’s story.

Sung by Wendy Bryn Harmer, Jessica Klein, Suzanne Hendrix, Luretta Bybee, Tamara Mancini, Sarah Heltzel, Renée Tatum, and Cecelia Hall, with the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Asher Fisch  

From A Night at the Opera: Anvil Chorus (Il trovatore)
One of the Marx Brothers’ greatest comedies used the pretensions of opera-goers—and the complications of one of opera’s most Romantic plots, Il trovatore—to hilarious effect. The noisy effect of the anvil-banging just makes this familiar music that much sillier.

Performed by the Seattle Opera Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Yves Abel

From Sunday Bloody Sunday: “Soave sia il vento” (Così fan tutte)
This provocative 1971 film by John Schlesinger concerned an unusual love triangle. As such, Mozart’s gorgeous trio from Così fan tutte was a perfect thematic counterpoint.

Sung by Alwyn Mellor, Kate Lindsey, and Peter Rose, with the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Carlo Montanaro.  

From Moonstruck: “O soave fanciulla” (La bohème)
Who could forget the scene in which Nicholas Cage’s character tells Cher: “the only things I’ve ever loved are the opera and you.” He takes her to her first opera—it’s Puccini’s popular La bohème at the Metropolitan Opera in New York—and cinematic magic is made. Let’s listen to Rodolfo and Mimì fall in love, Puccini-style, in a familiar love duet--one which also featured in the 2007 films Atonement and Love in the Time of Cholera.

Sung by Rosario LaSpina and Nuccia Focile, with the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Vjekoslav Sutej.

From Wall Street: “Questa o quella” (Rigoletto)
Another great use of Italian opera music for a film set in New York City in the 1980s came when Gordon Gekko taught Bud Fox the ways of Wall Street. Oliver Stone knew that the cynical creed of Verdi’s playboy Duke of Mantua, “Questa o quella,” would be the perfect music for these shallow characters.

Sung by Francesco Demuro, with the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Frizza.  

From Gallipoli: “Au fond du temple saint” (The Pearl Fishers)
The gorgeous duet from Bizet’s Pearl Fishers made new fans when Peter Weir used it in the movie Gallipoli, about the friendship of two young Australian men who become soldiers in World War One—faithful until death, as the two buddies swear in the beautiful Pearl Fishers duet.

Sung by William Burden and Brett Polegato, with the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Carlo Montanaro.  

From The Hunger: Flower Duet (Lakmé)
What that Pearl Fishers duet did for male voices in exotic French opera, the duet from Lakmé did for the ladies. The Lakmé Flower Duet has been used in Sex in the City, Laura Croft Tomb Raider, even the Quentin Tarantino film True Romance. Its sensual blending of female voices powerfully underscored a sexual tryst between two lady vampires, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, in the horror movie The Hunger.

Sung by Joan Sutherland and Huguette Tourangeau, with the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge.

From The King’s Speech: Overture to The Marriage of Figaro
Mozart’s whirligig overture to the beloved grandaddy of all opera comedies has been used by everybody from Schwarzenegger to Seinfeld to Mad Men. In the Colin Firth film The King’s Speech, speech pathologist Geoffrey Rush played this music to distract his patient, King George VI of England, from the ghastly sound of his own voice.

Played by the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Dean Williamson.  

From Philadelphia: “La mamma morta (Andrea Chenier)
Tom Hanks won his first Oscar for his role in Philadelphia, including the famous scene where his character, an opera-lover dying of AIDS, introduces his lawyer—played by Denzel Washington—to his favorite kind of music. He plays him the aria “La mamma morta,” from Giordano’s Andrea Chenier, and these two characters forge a connection all the stronger for being unlikely.

Sung by Diana Soviero, with the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Steven Mercurio.  

From A Room with a View: “O mio babbino caro (Gianni Schicchi)
Movies love that big, lush sound of Romantic Italian opera music. Who could forget the spellbinding beauty of the aria “O mio babbino caro,” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, as heard when a repressed girl from Edwardian England learns about passion while on holiday in Tuscany in the beloved Merchant-Ivory romantic comedy A Room with a View?

Sung by Cynthia Haymon, with the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Cal Stewart Kellog.

From Jean de Florette: Overture to La forza del destino
A 1986 French movie that made a big international impact, Jean de Florette, starring Yves Montand, Gérard Depardieu, and Daniel Auteuil, made brilliant use of the overture to Verdi’s mighty tragedy, La forza del destino—the Force of Destiny. The same great Verdi music returned in the sequel, Manon of the Spring.

Played by the orchestra of the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program conducted by Brian Garman.

From The Fifth Element: Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor
Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about action movies and sci-fi. Fans of the Bruce Willis film The Fifth Element may remember the alien Plavalaguna, who is hiding the Fifth Element—and who performs her own riff on the famous mad scene from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.

Sung by Aleksandra Kurzak, with the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Bruno Cinquegrani.  

From Fatal Attraction: “Un bel dì” (Madama Butterfly)
Like Donizetti's Lucia, Puccini's Madama Butterfly has a tenuous grip on reality. Butterfly's single-minded obsession with a cad who loves her and leaves her is so powerful, her music was used to characterize Glenn Close’s obsessive stalker in Fatal Attraction.

Sung by Patricia Racette, with the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Julian Kovatchev.  

From The Witches of Eastwick: “Nessun dorma (Turandot)
Jack Nicholson, as the devil Daryl van Horne, creeped us out in The Witches of Eastwick just as Glenn Close creeped us in Fatal Attraction. But Nicholson at least used a cheerier Puccini melody: “Nessun dorma” from Turandot, which became one of the most famous arias in all of opera when Luciano Pavarotti made it his theme song.

Sung by Antonello Palombi, with the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Asher Fisch.  

From Driving Miss Daisy: Song to the Moon (Rusalka)
Just as Pavarotti became associated with “Nessun dorma,” Renee Fleming has been a champion of the beautiful Song to the Moon from Dvorak’s Rusalka. Not many people in America knew how gorgeous that opera is until Ms. Fleming started singing it—beginning with her Seattle debut in 1990. This wistfully beautiful aria featured in the popular movie Driving Miss Daisy.

Sung by Renee Fleming, with the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Bruce Ferden.  

From My Left Foot: “Un’aura amorosa” (Così fan tutte)
One of Mozart’s most beautiful tenor arias is a celebration of the nourishing power of love. You heard this music when Daniel Day-Lewis was triumphing over cerebral palsy in My Left Foot.

Sung by Matthew Polenzani, with the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Andreas Mitisek.  

From Excalibur: Siegfried’s Funeral March (Götterdämmerung)
On this tour of opera music from the movies we’ve heard plenty of Puccini, a bit of Mozart, Verdi, French opera...but we wouldn’t want you Wagner lovers to feel shortchanged. After all, Wagner practically invented the movie soundtrack. This amazing orchestral passage from Götterdämmerung contributed great power and majesty to the movie Excalibur.

Played by the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Asher Fisch.  

From The Shawshank Redemption: Letter Duet (The Marriage of Figaro)
In the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption, convict Tim Robbins seizes control of his prison’s PA system and plays this wonderful music by Mozart for all his fellow prisoners, including Morgan Freeman, who has this to say about it: “I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. ... I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can't be expressed in words. ... those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. ... For the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”

Sung by Bernarda Bobro and Nuccia Focile, with the Seattle Opera Orchestra conducted by Dean Williamson.  

From Pretty Woman: “Sempre libera” (La traviata)
To conclude our celebration of opera music in the movies, here’s one that gets at the heart of the glamor and passion that opera represents: Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts. This movie is a Cinderella-story, about a downtrodden gal who gets one shot at attending the prince’s ball—in this case, Richard Gere hires her to be his date for an opera. Of course he takes her to La traviata, the ultimate opera about a woman who gets paid to entertain men. And what she hears there changes her world.

Sung by Dana Pundt, with the orchestra of the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program conducted by Brian Garman.