Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Operamania 101: To Desire Greatness

Art and opera go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or haven't you seen the 1998 movie, Great Expectations?

Based on Charles Dickens' story and starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow, the movie tells of artist Finnegan Bell and his rise in the art world through a mysterious benefactor. On his journey to New York, the art capital of the world, Finn tries desperately to further himself up along the social ladder in the vain hopes to finally capture the girl of his dreams; the girl who was always beyond his reach.

At an event celebrating what is to be his first gallery showing, Finn arrives at the soiree where a female opera singer is singing the crowd an aria. The song is I Saw No Shadow of Another Parting (which also happens to be the closing lines of Dickens' book)

Although performed in the movie by another singer, on the Great Expectations soundtrack, soprano Dame Kiri te Kanawa does the honours of singing the aria.

Dame Kiri te Kanawa was considered one of the world's best sopranos during the 70s-80s. In 1981, 600 million people around the world heard her sing Handel's Let the Bright Seraphim at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. The following year, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Royalty's love for the grand dame did not end there. In 1986, te Kanawa sang Happy Birthday and God Save the Queen in recognition of Queen Elizabeth II's upcoming birthday.

Dame Kiri te Kanawa's sung version of I Saw No Shadow of Another Parting was the perfect complement to go along with the stunningly beautiful instrumental version by Patrick Doyle.

Great Expectations was a sumptuous movie to look at, from the lush greenery of Miss Dinsmore's Paradiso Perduto in Florida to the dazzling backdrop of Estella's New York City. But throughout it all, it was the music that moved the viewer. And at the prelude to one of the most pivotal and romantic scenes ever in a movie, it was the use of opera that captured the moment best.

~ Ling Chan

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