Edited By Hyunseon Lee and Naomi D. Segal
Affirmation and Resistance: Operatic Exoticism on Film
MARCIA J. CITRON
Opera-film has a long and diverse history. In the silent era, for instance, Geraldine Farrar made a splash as Carmen in Cecil B. De Mille’s movie on the popular story. As in most early Carmen films, Georges Bizet’s music plays only an accompanimental role and, somewhat ironically, Farrar never sings a note. Prosper Mérimée’s story is the backbone of the plot. In 1975, Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Flute launched a brilliant period that peaked in the 1980s with blockbuster films such as Franco Zeffirelli’s La Traviata (1982) and Otello (1986). More recently, Benoît Jacquot’s 2002 film of Tosca incorporates postmodernist techniques by blending the making of the film with the opera. Indeed, over its century-long history, opera-film has reflected trends in both society and cinema. This includes the concept of exoticism. Many opera-films have used exoticism prominently and sometimes in very different ways from film to film. This variety reflects changes in cinematic style and society’s view of opera and its cultural mission.
I would like to discuss a range of responses to exoticism in opera-film, along the continuum bounded by affirmation and resistance. While one example is blatantly orientalist, in others we will see how certain devices blunt or divert exoticism so that it does not become orientalism. My examples are four famous films and they cover the approximate operatic range of this book from Aida (1875) to Turandot (1924). They fall in pairs around key moments in modern...
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