I recently had an interesting conversation with filmmaker Paola Marino about establishing connections between opera and film – an uneasy marriage, but also one full of potential. Her new short, Dalila, screens on July 1 as part of the Italian Contemporary Film Festival.
Marino caught the opera bug a few years ago, and made her first short, Desire: An Operatic Trilogy [she is making the film available for DtO readers until Wed, so get thee to Vimeo]. Mezzo lovers won’t be surprised that it features Lauren Segal in three roles that illustrate the rise of desire (Mozart’s Cherubino), the satisfaction (Bizet’s Carmen) and the waning of desire into stillness (Irene from Vivaldi’s Bajazet). It’s a non-narrative piece of short experimental film-making set to original music, sung by Segal with the piano accompaniment. “I’ve always had a problem with narrative structures and always loved the Nouvelle Vague for this reason”, Marino explains. “What I would like to try to narrate is the emotion.”
She used different cinematic tools to show the trajectory of desire in the three clips. Whereas Cherubino is the desiring subject and is visually choreographed as such, Carmen is the object of desire for the many people passing through her bedroom and circling within her gravitational pull. In the Irene clip, everything is still and deflated, or in words of the filmmaker, “dead”. Colours also change from one clip to another, from the pastoral setting to the Art Deco to the black and white.
What all three clips have in common is the fact of Lauren Segal’s undeniable hotness. Segal is also a collaborator in the artistic decision-making. Marino recollects an instance where she negotiated her way out of the Helmut Newton quote that Marino wanted to include. “I researched objectification of women in artistic photography and wanted to do a visual reference to the famous Saddle I photo… But Lauren would have none if it. Carmen would never put herself in that submissive position, she insisted. So we incorporated our disagreement in the film by putting the saddle on a male figure and Lauren picking it up and throwing it at me, the director.”
Segal is in Dalila too, together with tenor Richard Troxell. Marino had three cameras for that one, but was her own director of photography and ended up benefiting from the challenge. The original inspiration was the Samson & Dalila painting by Giambattista Crosato (d. 1758) and the video follows the process of a similar painting coming together. The idea for Dalila was born when Segal suggested to Marino to give a listen to “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix”.
How can opera and film be effectively married? We’ve seen many attempts that don’t really work or that favour one over other art form. “I remember watching Franco Zeffirelli’s La Traviata and Cavalleria rusticana and Francesco Rosi’s Carmen, filmed on location,” says Marino. “In Zeffirelli’s case, the final product doesn’t come out of the theatre. The film-making doesn’t add anything. Rosi does use the film-making tools to create realism and intimacy, but the opera suffers somewhat – the grandiosity, the theatricality get a little bit lost. And even in Rosi’s film, there’s no real merging. When you experiment with two different art forms, you have to come up with something entirely new – otherwise, in my view, it won’t work.” She distinguishes between operas that offer great visuals, like the Magic Flute, and many others that don’t. Putting the latter type on film presents a more interesting challenge. “I want to remain faithful to the opera; I firmly believe in its classicità. And I also like evoking, rather than literally translating.” So the task will always be to harmonize the two stances.
I ask her whether we’ll see with opera video shorts what we’ve seen happen with pop music videos, which grew out of the need to be an “illustration” of the song to either something vaguely related or completely independent altogether. “That is a sort of estrangement between the sound and the images. I would not go that far. We should keep that fundamental connection between the libretto, the sound and the visuals.”
Marino’s next opera film will be much longer: a Cavalleria rusticana in collaboration with conductor Marco Guidarini (who conducted Il Trovatore at the COC past winter), and she promises it will be as non-Zeffirelli’s as you can imagine. Its atmosphere will have more than a hint of Visconti’s 1943 film Ossessione.
Dalila at ICFF — July 1, 4:30, TIFF Lightbox. Details.
Lauren Segal in a Dalila still and (top collage) in the Trilogy