Operatic Works in Silent Cinema

Fig. 5

Between the 1910s and 20s, countless film adaptations of operas originated as a consequence of the medial competition between cinema and the bourgeois cultural institution par excellence: opera. Film adaptations aspired to lend artistic and cultural dignity to the new medium of cinema and, at the same time, actualized operatic subjects, adapting them to the cinema’s sense of naturalism and immediacy.

The processes of adaptation carried out by filmmakers could take on a variety of characteristics, as a result not only of the varying practical needs of a particular adaptation, but also of different aesthetic paradigms of cinema, that is, the different ways of conceiving its semiotic modes of discourse and the hierarchical configuration of the artistic languages embedded in it.

This article compares the adaptational strategies in four films––Cecil DeMille’s Carmen (1915), Albert Capellani’s La vie de Bohème (1916), Jacques Feyder’s Carmen (1926), and Richard Strauss & Robert Wiene’s Rosenkavalier (1926)––that represent just as many different modes of engagement with their operatic originals. These instances are interpreted as different solutions to the very same aesthetic problem: i.e., how to translate operatic dramaturgy into a cinematic means of expression.

Francesco Finocchiaro, Operatic Works in Silent Cinema: Toward a Translational Theory of Film Adaptations, «Music and the Moving Image», XIII/3, 2020, pp. 49-71