Classical Music Moments in Movies II

The quirky science fiction blockbuster The Fifth Element is set in the 23rd century and features an intergalactic struggle for the survival of planet Earth. This task falls on Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), a taxi driver and former Special Forces major, after a young woman (Milla Jovovich) accidentally stumbles into his cab. They join forces to recover four mystical stones essential for the defense of Earth against crusty aliens with bad teeth. When the hero attends an opera recital on a luxury liner cruising through outer space, he is in for a major surprise! The soprano, Diva Plavalaguna, is a statuesque blue alien who launches into an eerie rendition of the Mad Scene from Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. The otherworldly voice actually belongs to Albanian singer Inva Mula, and just have a listen to the digitally manipulated cadenza at the end of the aria!

The Fifth Element (Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor)

Thomas Mann published his novella Death in Venice in 1912. The protagonist Gustav von Aschenbach suffers from writer’s block and visits Venice. He becomes liberated, uplifted, and increasingly obsessed by the stunning beauty of an adolescent Polish boy named Tadzio. Although he never speaks to the boy, much less touches him, the writer finds himself drawn into an existentialist struggle whether to follow a path of logic and reason or a path of passion. For the 1971 Italian-French film, the director Luchino Visconti changes the profession of the protagonist from writer to composer. This allows the musical score taken from the symphonies of Gustav Mahler to represent Aschenbach’s compositions. Unbeknownst to Aschenbach, Venice is gripped by a cholera epidemic and he quietly expires to the anxious strains of Mahler’s “Adagietto.”

Death in Venice (Mahler: Adagietto)

The 1983 erotic horror film The Hunger features the vampire Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve), who promises eternal life to the talented cellist John (David Bowie) whom she married in 18th century France. 200 years later, they live in an elegant New York townhouse, posing as a wealthy couple teaching classical music. But John has a problem! He suffers from insomnia and rapidly ages in a matter of days. So he consults Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), who specialized in the effects of rapid aging in primates. Things get complicated, and after John murders and feeds upon a young music student, he is placed into a coffin in the attic for eternal storage. Sarah is looking for her patient, and when she comes to the townhouse she only finds Miriam. The scene of seduction and sexual encounter between Miriam and Sarah is accompanied by music from Léo Delibes’ opera Lakme. Written for two sopranos, this ethereal and sensual duet perfectly complements the erotic moment when Miriam bites Sarah.

The Hunger (Léo Delibes: Flower Duet)

The incredible storytelling of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus brought Mozart’s music into the everyday life of millions of people. In fact, it turned Mozart into a household name. This fictionalized biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is set in the latter half of the 18th century in Vienna. The plot is based on the premise that Antonio Salieri, jealous of his musical rival, plans to kill Mozart and present a Requiem to be premiered at Mozart’s funeral. And since this is a movie about Mozart, his music is heard extensively in the soundtrack of the movie. Salieri famously claimed to have heard “the voice of god,” and I for one, could not agree more!

Amadeus (Mozart: Rondo Alla Turca)

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