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Vocal Apparitions

Vocal Apparitions: The Attraction of Cinema to Opera

Michal Grover-Friedlander
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Vocal Apparitions
    Book Description:

    Cinema and opera have become intertwined in a variety of powerful and unusual ways.Vocal Apparitionstells the story of this fascinating intersection, interprets how it occurred, and explores what happens when opera is projected onto the medium of film. Michal Grover-Friedlander finds striking affinities between film and opera--from Lon Chaney's classic silent film,The Phantom of the Opera, to the Marx Brothers'A Night at the Opera to Fellini's E la nave va.

    One of the guiding questions of this book is what occurs when what is aesthetically essential about one medium is transposed into the aesthetic field of the other. For example, Grover-Friedlander's comparison of an opera by Poulenc and a Rossellini film, both based on Cocteau's playThe Human Voice, shows the relation of the vocal and the visual to be surprisingly affected by the choice of the medium. Her analysis of the Marx Brothers'A Nightat the Opera demonstrates how, as a response to opera's infatuation with death, cinema comically acts out a correction of opera's fate. Grover-Friedlander argues that filmed operas such as Zeffirelli's Otello and Friedrich's Falstaff show the impossibility of a direct transformation of the operatic into the cinematic.

    Paradoxically, cinema at times can be more operatic than opera itself, thus capturing something essential that escapes opera's self-understanding. A remarkable look at how cinema has been haunted--and transformed--by opera,Vocal Apparitionsreveals something original and important about each medium.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6674-8
    Subjects: Music, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-16)

    THIS BOOK is about cinema’s attraction to the operatic voice: not about any and all points of contact between cinema and opera but rather about films that thematize the power that opera has over film—thematize, so to speak, their own “pull” toward opera. I explore cinema’s acknowledgment of opera’s power over it and account for this extreme attraction to opera. If a film is not driven by opera or does not wish, in its infatuation and obsession, to become operatic, if it does not risk its own “cinematicness” in being so haunted by opera, it does not figure in...


    • CHAPTER 1 The Phantom of the Opera: The Lost Voice of Opera in Silent Film
      (pp. 19-32)

      FILM’S ATTRACTION TO opera began not with the technical possibility of synchronizing the operatic voice with the image but earlier, in the silent era. In theNew York Timesof August 27, 1910, Thomas Edison declared: “We’ll be ready for the moving picture shows in a couple of months, but I’m not satisfied with that.I want to give grand opera.”¹ What did silent film seek in opera? Would a silent film of or about opera have any meaning? What are the possibilities for silent opera? How would an operatic voice make itself manifest in a silent film?

      Following Stanley...

    • CHAPTER 2 Brothers at the Opera
      (pp. 33-50)

      A NIGHT AT THE OPERA(1935) is arguably one of the best Marx Brothers films because within the world of opera they find themselves in their natural element. The absurd medium of opera is not a far cry from the Marx Brothers’ ludicrous state of being in the world. As an excessive medium in which words are sung performances, opera can be seen as a parallel to the Marx Brothers’ distrust of meaning. Hence the Marx Brothers’ reinvention of the world sides with, and not against, opera. In one famous discussion fromA Night at the Opera, Groucho’s, Chico’s, and...


    • CHAPTER 3 Otello’s One Voice
      (pp. 53-80)

      UP TO THIS POINT I have addressed the “tragic fate” of voice in opera, and the transposition of voice in film that attempts to overcome this fate.The Phantom of the Operarestaged the failure that occurs whenever the singing voice verges on the cry, and the Marx Brothers’Night at the Operaprovided for a possibility of dissolving this tragic lapse into comic chaos. But what about tragedy and comedy within opera itself? In histories of opera, it is commonplace to balkanize the two modes as separate genres, even while discussing similarities in musical designs or compositional strategies. This...

    • CHAPTER 4 Falstaff’s Free Voice
      (pp. 81-110)

      FALSTAFFIS A singular opera. It is as if Verdi and Boito took tragic opera leftovers, all that was not incorporated in tragedy, and createdFalstaff.¹ The opera replaces Verdi’s repeated tales of the solitary voyage of the virtuous heroine to her death with the route taken by two identical love letters to two wedded women, and the events along this route. This doubling—the replacement of the single tragic heroine with a pair of documents—signals the possibility of error, confusion, and chaos, which are essential to the movement from the tragic to the comic. And there are other...


    • CHAPTER 5 Opera on the Phone: The Call of the Human Voice
      (pp. 113-130)

      OPERA IN THE twentieth century has largely been characterized by a preoccupation with rethinking the quality and redefining the limits of the operatic: what can be considered opera, what determines it as such, and how does opera relate to other twentieth-century multimedia works?¹ One of the main areas of experimentation concerns the possibilities the medium provides for admitting and containing voices that have not traditionally been considered operatic—voices that challenge opera’s vocal artificiality and stylization, its exaggerated range, its strained production, and its bordering on the inhuman in an impossible quest for the divine.

      Redrawing the boundaries renegotiates the...

    • CHAPTER 6 Fellini’s Ashes
      (pp. 131-152)

      HERE IS Federico Fellini, revealing his fascination with a catastrophe, the “end of cinema.”

      In the course of the summer I conducted a direct personal experiment. In company with the producer Renzo Rossellini, I made a tour of eighteen Roman cinemas, first-run and repertory, central and suburban, during the prime-time period, namely, from half past six to half past eight in the evening. I went from one cinema to the next with a kind of increasing inebriation, exaltation. Ruin, catastrophe and apocalypse have always given me a sense of excitement…. We pulled apart the curtains, looked at the screen and...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 153-182)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 183-186)