Five Memorable Uses of Operatic Music in Movies

When film directors use opera music, it’s  usually to give their film/scene a sense of more epicness (BTW, epicness is a word because it’s on the Scott Pilgrim poster. That’s reason enough.) But occasionally, using opera can do something else as well; it can lift the film, and make it spiritually soar. Or in the case of my first choice, it can be downright depressing. But it works. Here are five films which use opera well and allows it to assist in setting the mood without overdoing it:

1: Antichrist (2009)

Lars von Trier’s Antichrist opens with the best scene the man has ever directed. A slow motion ballet of sex and death, we watch as the protagonists He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) engage in vigorous lovemaking whilst in the other room their toddler falls out the window to his death. Heartbreaking, and astonishingly beautiful in its own weird way.

2: Philadelphia (1993)

 Though Tom Hanks does overdo it a teensy bit in this scene, it still remains a powerful examination of opera music from an artistic mind. Andrew Beckett (Hanks) describes the music in an opera while a silent Denzel Washington looks on.

3: Life is Beautiful (1997)

 In this brilliant, surprisingly light film about the Holocaust, there is a scene featuring opera which completely epitomises the feel of the film; its brilliance, its colour, its raw emotion. Just a fantastic way to top it off.

4: L’Age D’Or (1930)

 Although the music in this scene doesn’t feature actual singing, it is an instrumental version of Liebestod, from Tristan and Isolde. It is beautiful music, and it tops off this wildly wonderful Buñuel mindfuck. Full of amazing imagery, it’s a film you mustn’t miss, and with a soundtrack that tops off the wonder of its visuals.

5: Apocalypse Now (1979)

Who could forget the classic scene of the approaching helicopters blaring Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries as they begin their attack? Hauntingly memorable; if not for the famous opera music it would be nothing. Coppola’s talent and touch adds in the much-needed element of music.

That’s my list. Any selections you’d like to add? Leave a comment below.

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Posted on August 22, 2011, in Lists, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. HAHAH I was hoping for a bit of Apocalypse now!! LOL And there it is.

    That scene from Anti Christ as beautiful as it is, just isn’t selling it to me as a parent. It will stay on my ‘never watch’ list I think.

    • I’m glad you appreciated its beauty, but I imagine for a parent it’s not the sort of thing you want to watch. Neither is the film. I love Antichrist. I gave it 9/10. But it has some very intense, graphic and incredibly disturbing sequences, some of which I won’t repeat as I’ve already named them in my review. I can understand it being on your Never Watch list, but not everything von Trier has made is full of disturbing imagery. Some of his films are quite nice, and some are even comedic.

  2. The VERY first thing I thought of was the one from Antichrist. And sure enough, it’s right there. I know in my head that it’s called “Lascia ch’io Pianga” but whenever I try to bring it up in conversation, it comes out “The Chewbacca Tango”. It’s been used in a few other things… although I’m drawing a blank on what else.

    I’m a little surprised that the piece from “The Double Life of Veronique” didn’t make the list.

    • Yeah, Antichrist was actually what inspired this list as I was rewatching it recently so I could finally publish my review.

      What? The Double Life of Veronique? Oh, SHIT, you’re right! Jesus, Ashley’s going to kill me for that one (it’s her favourite movie). And considering I recently did a post on Kieslowski, he was still fresh in my mind so I should’ve remembered. Holy crap on a cracker! Well, that’s Tonight’s movie-watching sealed: I am rewatching The Double Life of Veronique.

  3. Ahahaha just wait until you see The Tree of Life. Then you can have this top 5 filled with them exclusively.

    • I like it more and more. I had a Malick marathon recently to catch up while waiting for Tree of Life, and I can say I’m more excited than I’m able to put into words. Malick is a genius, and Days of Heaven is magnificent, so I’m excited to see what he’ll do next.

  4. Hi, Tyler–I finally saw Tree of Life last night. Anxious to hear what you think once you see it. All I’ll say is that it’s definitely Malick’s most challenging, thought-provoking movie. And, typical of Malick, and apropos of the present post, the music is quite prominent–though I feel it’s one of the film’s more problematic elements.

    As for opera in other movies–apart from Amadeus, where opera was of course an integral part of the story (and stunningly realized onscreen in Kubrick-esque, candlelit glory), the film that immediately leapt to mind for me was Aria, the still-unmatched 1987 “omnibus” film showcasing the directorial talents of Godard, Altman, Jarman, Roeg, and several others. The segments most memorable for me are Franc Roddam’s reimagining of the “Liebestod” from Tristan and Isolde in a seedy Las Vegas hotel (featuring Bridget Fonda, topless, in her first film role), but, more especially, Ken Russell’s nightmarish, beautiful, hallucinatory story of a car crash survivor undergoing emergency surgery to “Nessun dorma” from Turandot. (Godard’s contribution is a kooky, oddly humorous confection, accompanied by Lully’s Armide, featuring two nude female beauties trying in vain to attract the attention of oblivious bodybuilders at a gym–recalling a similar campy scene in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Another classic example: the scene where the off-the-deep-end, homocidal Glenn Close slowly and repeatedly flicks the light switch on and off as she listens to Madama Butterfly in Fatal Attraction.

    • Definitely looking forward to Tree of Life. Should be out in a week, at least.

      You’ve DEFINITELY piqued my attention with Aria. I’m definitely going to look into that one, thanks for the recommendation.

  5. Ha, sorry–“homicidal,” not “homocidal.”

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