More dated than Columbia's other big hit of 1934, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, this influential musical still seems light and bright because it never takes itself too seriously. Its success revealed the public's unsuspected hunger for opera, or more accurately, pretty snippets from operas. This certainly gave MGM ideas about how to showcase Jeanette MacDonald, and started a stampede to corral star sopranos [Lily Pons], budding divas [Deanna Durbin], and operatic guest stars [even Kirsten Flagstad sings in BIG BROADCAST OF 1938].
At the time, Grace Moore got all the attention, as much for her shapely figure and for stepping down from her Metropolitan Opera pedestal as for her actual performance. Playing a soprano who spends her savings to study with a famous maestro in Italy, the 33 year-old Moore seems a bit of a late starter, but bounces around with lots of vivacity. Singing the title song and the inevitable "Ciri-Biri-Bin", she mostly avoids the pearls-before-swine tone of opera singers when they stoop to popular song, although she still sashays [especially as Carmen] and waves her arms too much for modern tastes.
Many decades later, it is clear that much of the charm was supplied by Tullio Carminati, an appealing comic actor with a wry quality, something like an Italian Walter Matthau. As Moore's mentor/romantic interest, he has a kind of offhand sophistication and the expert timing to support Moore's occasionally shaky line readings [of course, she's the one who got the Oscar nomination].
Director Victor Schertzinger soft-pedals the high culture, and manages several Lubitsch/Mamoulian moments: one amusing conceit has a building full of musicians all practicing different instruments in discord, until Moore unites the tunes with her impromptu rendition of "Sempre Libre" from LA TRAVIATA. Another enjoyable sequence presents singing a quartet from LUCIA as a strategy to avoid paying the rent. When the plot enters the tiresome misunderstandings phase, Schertzinger keeps the pace going until the finale, a staging of a scene from MADAME BUTTERFLY.
Throughout, Joseph Walker, Columbia's maestro of camerawork, softly lights Moore to utmost advantage, and even gets in a couple of zoom shots [in 1934!]
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