Opera and the movies

MUSIC MAESTRO: Soprano Jo-Nette La Kay (right) accompanied on the piano by Paul Ferreira (left) at the Classics at the Castle on Sunday

MUSIC MAESTRO: Soprano Jo-Nette La Kay (right) accompanied on the piano by Paul Ferreira (left) at the Classics at the Castle on Sunday


Golden sounds, Silver Screen was the theme at Classics at the Castle on Sunday with soprano Jo-Nette La Kay who lectures in Voice at Rhodes University accompanied by Paul Ferreira who came all the way from Pretoria to accompany her on piano.

La Kay who has performed in Germany and Switzerland and has put together numerous productions in South Africa,  insisted on translations so that the audience could appreciate the poetry of opera.

The first song, an aria called Ebben ne andro Londana from Catalani’s opera La Wally, was exquisite and sensitively rendered by La Kay.  As Wally, she sang about her love for the son of her father’s sworn enemy.

Oh, from my mother’s mirthful home

Wally will go away from you, from you!

Ebben ne andro Londana featured in the movie, Diva (1981) in which the hero, a postman, is in love with an American soprano.

The second opera Verdi’s, La Traviata, in which a courtesan finds true love, but is forced to relinquish it, was the inspiration for the movie Pretty Woman (1990).  In it Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) hires Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) to accompany him to a series of business and social functions, including  a visit to the opera to see La Traviata.  La Kaye sang Sempre Libera and Amami Alfredo.

Introducing all the songs, Ferreira used a humorous tone particularly for the fourth song, Si Mi Chiamano Mimi from Puccini’s La Boheme.  Three bohemian artists living in a garrett find love in Paris in the 1880s and the song is about the poet, Rodolpho, who receives a visit from his neighbour.  Her candle has gone out, but being opera, they contrive to fall passionately in love.

Her fourth song, Rusalka’s Song to the Moon featured in the movie Driving Miss Daisy and inspired the movie The Little Mermaid.  The song is about a water nymph who falls in love with a human prince.  The prince is unaware of her love as she is invisible so she pleads with her father to allow  her to change into a human.  Unable to change her mind, he sinks back into the darkening lake, and Rusalka floats to the surface praying to the rising moon to reveal her love to the prince.


Moon high and deep in the sky

Your light sees far

You travel around the wide world

And see into people’s homes…

Tell him silvery moon

that I am embracing him

For at least momentarily

Let him recall dreaming of me.

Memorable about this song was the piano music that sounded like lapping waves.

Room with a View features the song O mio Babbino Caro from the Puccini opera Gianni Schicchi, a wealthy peasant who will not allow his daughter to marry a poor man.  Oh my dear papa she begs him, allow her to marry him or she will throw herself off the bridge.

I like him, he is very handsome

I want to go to Porta Rossa

to buy the ring.

Yes, yes, I want to go there.

And if my love were in vain

I would go to Ponte Vecchio

I am pining and I am tormented

Oh God! I would want to die!

Daddy, have mercy, have mercy!


The movie, however, is a plea for passion in a dry, conventional world.  The heroine meets the hero in Italy where he kisses her, but in London she goes out with a prig until he comes along and she must choose.

Puccini’s Visi d’Art from Tosca is put to bizarre use in the movie Copycat starring Sigourney Weaver who plays an agoraphobic psychologist stalked by a serial killer whose art is to copy the crimes of great serial killers as he sees them.


I lived for my art, I lived for love,

I never did harm to a living soul.

With a secret hand

I relieved as many misfortunes as I knew…

– sings the soprano, Tosca, in Rome, 1800. Her lover is in jail and Tosca begs the police chief to release him which he pretends to do. He says he must be seen to execute the man if only in pretence, while he is busy forcing himself on Tosca. Finally she obtains a safe conduct for herself and her lover and stabs the chief, but he is victorious in death.  The execution is carried out, but it is not pretend, it is real.

La Kaye’s seventh song, Desdemona’s prayer from the opera Otello by Verdi, is a chilling version of the Ave Maria because Desdemona has a premonition of her death, and the audience knows that despite her evident goodness and innocence, her prayer will do her no good and Othello will kill her out of jealousy.

As a surprise, La Kaye introduced three of her students who sang a duet and a solo from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro which featured in the Shawshank Redemption.  In the movie, Morgan Freeman’s character commented “it makes your heart ache” when defiant prisoner (Tim Robbins) plays the duet over the prison’s loudspeakers.   He is in jail for killing his wife’s lover and the Marriage of Figaro is all about infidelity.  Soloist, Nontsikelelo Bangisi, had an outstanding sweetest voice.

Next she sang three songs written by Edith Piaf.  La Vie en Rose is a movie about the life of the French singer who despite her fame, friendships and romances, battled drug addiction and met an early death. La Kaye conveyed a sense of depression in Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, La Vie en Rose and Mon Dieu.

If you have seen the Life of David Gale in which a college professor is given the death sentence for the rape and murder of his colleague, you will remember the mysterious stranger who stalks the journalist covering the story who likes listening to the opera Turandot.  The journalist discovers that the victim committed suicide as part of a conspiracy to protest against the death sentence, but it is too late to stop the execution.  The opera Turandot by Puccini is also about suicide.

Another disturbing story is Fatal Attraction which features Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.  Glenn Close stalks a married man she had an affair with, and attempts suicide while listening to Un bel di vedremo.  Similarly, Madam Butterfly is a Japanese geisha who commits suicide when her American lover marries an American woman.

In Philadelphia Tom Hanks is a gay lawyer who is fired by his firm after he is diagnosed with AIDS.  Hanks himself explains the context and lyrics of the song La Mamma Morta from the opera Andrea Chenier by Giordano which parallels his own story. The kiss mamma receives is the kiss of death.

The last song was Casta Diva from the opera Norma by Bellina, which is featured in a movie yet to be released called Casta Diva: The Marian Anderson Story.  Anderson appeared on the steps before the Lincoln Memorial when Hitler’s troops were marching into Europe, and La Kaye said:

Temper, Oh Goddess

The hardening of your ardent spirits

Temper your bold zeal

Scatter peace across the earth…


La Kaye said this was her favourite song and Anderson “was an inspiration to me when I started my operatic career at the age of 12.  My mom described the concert to me in which she used her voice to unite a nation.”

DIVINE DIVA: Soprano Jo-Nette La Kay sang opera from the movies to a packed house at the Classics at the Castle on Sunday

DIVINE DIVA: Soprano Jo-Nette La Kay at the Classics at the Castle on Sunday

Leave a Reply