From Allen to Zeffirelli: Gianni Schicchi & Pagliacci on the Silver and Small Screens

Since the July release of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, the internet has been ablaze with stories about opera in film. In the movie, Tom Cruise plays spy Ethan Hunt, who thwarts an assassination attempt during a performance of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot. Rogue Nation is the latest in a long line of films that feature opera performances – utilizing arias to tell a story or illustrate elements of a character’s psyche. Franco Zeffirelli (whose production of Pagliacci returns to LA Opera this Saturday) specialized in making cinematic adaptations of operas in the 1980s, often collaborating with Plácido Domingo and Teresa Stratas. His 1982 adaptations of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci are particularly stunning.

Two of the most famous arias to be used in film are “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and “Vesti la giubba” from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. The former is a persuasive aria, which Lauretta uses to convince her father Gianni Schicchi to stop fighting with the family of Rinuccio, the man she loves, while the latter is sung by Canio in Pagliacci after he discovers his wife’s infidelity. Both arias have been included in a plethora of films and television shows for decades.

Here are a few examples:

“O mio babbino caro” – Gianni Schicchi

A Room with a View (1985) – In the film, Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) is torn between her fiancé Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the free-spirited George Emerson (Julian Sands), after meeting the latter in Florence. “O mio babbino caro” (performed by Kiri Te Kanawa) is the film’s main theme, expressing Lucy’s choice between a light-hearted romance and a passionate romance.

HDFilmTributes video of A Room with a View

Downtown Abbey, Season 4 (2013)Dame Kiri Te Kanawa portrays famous opera singer Dame Nellie Melba in an episode of the British melodrama and sings “o mio babbino caro” to the family.

Gotham, Season 1 (2015) The fifth episode of Fox’s Gotham includes a scene with Carmine Falcone (John Doman) listening to “o mio babbino caro,” an aria his mother used to sing to him growing up.

“Vesti La Giubba” – Pagliacci

The SimpsonsSideshow Bob performed “Vesti la giubba” to cartoon acclaim.

The Untouchables (1987) – In Brian de Palma’s film, Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) is told of an associate’s murder, while watching Pagliacci at the opera. Capone weeps to “Vesti la giubba;” he feels strongly about the plight of Canio, but has no qualms about murdering those who slight him.

Robert De Niro watching Pagliacci in The Untouchables

To Rome with Love (2012) – Not a stranger to putting opera in his films, Woody Allen (who directed our season-opening production of Gianni Schicchi) included “Vesti la giubba” in his 2012 film To Rome with Love. The film features famous tenor Fabio Armiliato portraying a man named Giancarlo, who can only sing opera well when he is in the shower. Allen’s character devises a scheme where Giancarlo sings famous arias, including “Vesti la giubba,” on stage while taking a shower.

Fabio Armiliato singing in To Rome with Love

What are some other film and TV series that include Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci? Share with us below.

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