Alagna and Gheorghiu Reach New Audiences on Screen
Christian Science Monitor, 1 July 2002
Roberto Alagna was 10 years old when he first saw the classic Hollywood
film The Great Caruso, starring Mario Lanza as the celebrated Italian
tenor. The movie changed Alagna's life.
"[Caruso] was like Robin Hood," Mr. Alagna remembers. "He was a great
hero for me. I decided then to become a tenor."
Now, as two of the most respected singers in the opera world, Alagna and
his wife, soprano Angela Gheorghiu, are making their own films, which
they hope will bring the rich world of opera to other impressionable
10-year-olds, as well as to the public at large.
The reigning "golden couple" of the opera world, Alagna and Gheorghiu
have two projects premiering next month that showcase the depth and
diversity of opera on film. On July 1, PBS begins airing Charles
Gounod's Romeo & Juliet, as part of its "Great Performances" series.
July 12 marks the release of Puccini's masterpiece Tosca in U.S. movie
In both projects, Alagna and Gheorghiu light up the screen with their
charisma. They are not only two of the most attractive high-profile
singers in the operatic world, but among the most artistically
acclaimed. They also have a spate of recordings to their credit
(including the Tosca soundtrack).
The Romanian-born Gheorghiu is known for her luminous, velvety soprano
that can soar with ardent lyricism. The remarkable tenor Alagna, born in
France of Sicilian parents, sings with a radiant purity. His voice is
capable of a thrilling, expressive edge without straining. The two have
been married since 1996, after meeting in 1992, when they sang the
love-struck Mimi and Rodolfo in La Bohème.
"When you are in love with a woman, the possibility to see her in these
different characters is the most beautiful gift you can receive from
God," Alagna says. "It is never routine between us as a couple. All the
time, you fall in love again."
He adds, "Maybe this is the reason audiences likes to see us together.
We have a real duet. Sometimes between a tenor and soprano, it's a
fight. With us, two voices become one, and the ... emotions are true."
Though the couple is rumored to be temperamental and a bit capricious,
Benoit Jacquot, the director of Tosca, says that "diva" quality is
partly what makes Alagna and Gheorghiu dynamic onscreen. "Their
lifestyle lend[s] real meaning to the word 'star,'" he says. Through the
expressive force of singing, they reach something rarely seen in the
cinema, with a sort of naturalness."
Says Chris Hunt, producer of Romeo & Juliet: "They ... threw themselves
into every scene with boundless energy, kept going for very long hours,
and were as easy to work with."
Though Romeo & Juliet and Tosca offer dramatically different approaches
to putting opera on film, both are ambitious projects. Romeo & Juliet,
directed by Barbara Sweete, was shot at the 13th-century Royal Castle of
Zvikov in the Czech Republic. The outdoor shots and highly stylized,
slightly surreal staging create a palpable sense of another time and
Filming was done in increments, with many cuts and camera changes.
Surprisingly, there were no close-ups: The singers had to emote with
their whole bodies.
The 90-minute telecast streamlines the opera to center on its arias and
its four famous love duets. While this production maintains the story's
narrative arc, it loses dramatic tension and continuity. What it gains
is a manageable length that may make it more appealing to TV audiences.
Tosca, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year, captures
more of the quality of a live performance. However, it is actually three
films in one. The fully costumed operatic performance is intercut with
black-and-white documentary footage of the sound score being recorded.
It also includes scenes of the Tosca settings around Rome. Purists will
likely complain that the collage of visuals interrupts the drama and the
Mr. Jacquot's use of fairly static closeups that feature a good deal of
scenery highlight the melodrama rather than the opera's musical and
It is through vivid, richly textured cinematography that Tosca takes
filmed opera to a new level of invention. Neither production uses the
traditional method of filming a staged performance. Thus the challenge
for singers was to lip-sync to a prerecorded soundtrack. Opera singers
are not used to singing exactly the same way in each performance, so
performing in both films required extensive coaching.
"It was a very strange sensation," Alagna says. "You need to be very
controlled." The pair's next film will be Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, set
for production in Sicily next year. For Alagna, these films provide a
way to reach a wider audience.
Since Tosca was released in France, Alagna says more people recognize
him: "People are calling out to me on the street, people who would never
go to the opera."
"I arrived in the world of opera by [watching] movies," he says. "If,
with these movies, I can give the same [inspiration] for another young
singer, I would be the most happy man in the world."
This page was last updated on: July 3, 2002