The inspiration for this blog comes from two sources: Me (I've been wanting to write this for YEARS) and conductor Andrew Bisantz (who was just in Montreal to conduct Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream and who spent many rehearsals referencing movies).
Both Andrew and I (and frankly, so many others I know in the business) have way too many moments nowadays when, in rehearsal, we reference a movie that should be known but, for a myriad of reasons, isn't. And then there's the musical theatre references that get made in opera rehearsals... (A whole other blog!!)
Art is not unique. All art - from Shakespeare's to Gluck's to Rossini's to Stravinsky's to Bernstein's to Spielberg's to Whedon's - is connective and, frankly, dependent on so much other art that has been or was created before by others. Being the most collaborative type of art, opera is very much dependent upon making connections beyond the score's music and text.
It happens in rehearsals and in coachings. Someone says, "I need you to enter into that doorway just like Kate Hepburn did in the penultimate scene of The Lion in Winter"; silence usually follows, and then a blank stare... No idea who Kate might be, or that the movie ain't about a lion in Africa.
The reason these references get made is because they are tremendously visceral moments that might help a young actor/actress access an image or a vocal colour or a physicality that could help create an operatic moment that works in the director's (or conductor's) imagination. These references also help to show how connective the operatic art form is, plus it's rather a fun thing to do.
Points of reference help create community.
So -- my list of Movies that I think all young opera singers should watch. Of course, there are many left off, and some you might disagree with, but I have my reasons!
1) Moonstruck: Too important a film to ignore. Cher and Nicholas Cage making terrific choices, most of them physical. Great old actors showing how it's done. Lovely screenplay. And the soundtrack is all La bohème!
2) The Lion in Winter: Two lions of acting at the top of their game: Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole. Film debut of Anthony Hopkins (playing a gay Richard the Lion-hearted), plus Timothy Dalton. Every scene in this film is a masterclass in how to play a scene.
3) Indiscreet: Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman put romance on a whole new planet.
4) Any Hitchcock film: Learn about delayed gratification from this master of suspense. James Stewart and Cary Grant were brilliant in their films with Hitch. Aspiring directors of opera can't really aspire to direct opera without knowing his films.
5) Babette's Feast: A film about what it truly means to be an ARTIST. You have to wait for it, but the speech at the end of the film is inspirational for any of us; plus there's an opera singer played in the film by an actual opera singer: Jean-Philippe Lafont.
6) The Godfather: I don't need to explain why this is a film that should be basically memorized by one and all looking to act on the stage in any genre. The sequel is even better.
7) Singing in the Rain and American in Paris: Gene Kelly dances, sings, and acts in his own athletic way that I think is rather operatic. Kelly is a good actor to watch and study to learn how he moves and communicates emotion with his body. He's a gesture king, fyi.
8) Star Trek and Star Wars: Epic sci-fi series are always great for research into archetypical characters present in Epic operas (or even in the non-Epic ones).
9) Since I've mentioned a TV series - other TV series that are absolutely essential to commit to memory: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer; Fringe (Walter!); Rome (great for research); Downton Abbey (terrific for WW1 and 1920's research); and the best TV ever --- Sherlock (multiple viewing only increases my love for the acting and writing and directing in this series!). While you're at it -- Golden Girls, Mary Tyler Moore Show, St. Elsewhere, and... ThirtySomething (angst in the late 20th century.)
10) Others to contemplate and watch at least once: A Room with a View, Gosford Park, Forrest Gump, and movies by Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams, and Peter Jackson (his Tolkien movies are excellent for pseudo-historical research into anything that lives in the world of Nordic mythology.)
So get on Netflix and spend some quality time enjoying these films and the performances in them. Take notice of the editing, the writing, the lighting and cinematography, the acting, the physicality of the characters, and the directing. It all informs the end product and, as artists who sing and act, you can learn so much from just watching!
Plus, the next time you're in a rehearsal with me, or Andrew Bisantz (or frankly anyone who loves movies) they'll be a few more connective fibers between everyone in the room.