9 July 2014 | blanche-2
opera for the masses
"Music for Madam" is a light film from RKO starring opera singer Nino Martini and Joan Fontaine. It's fascinating to note that in the 1930s-1950s, opera was used in film plots and opera singers were hired for the movies. Then suddenly, it all stopped, even as musical films continued in popularity for a time after. The last attempt, a disaster, was Pavarotti in "Yes, Giorgio." What happened? Good question. But I'm sure if you took a poll, opera attendance in the U.S. is way down. I would venture to say cultural pastimes can't compete with the likes of the Kardashians, bubblegum music, and Honey Boo-Boo.
Martini plays a naive tenor Nino Maretti who comes to Hollywood to make it in the movies. While he's singing on the bus, some thieves planning to rob valuable pearls at the home of a famous film impresario a la Stokowski (Alan Mowbray) decide he's just the ticket to distract the guests while they do their pilfering.
After telling Nino that they can make him a star with their connections, they throw him in a clown costume and clown makeup and have him sing Vesti la giubba, giving them a chance to steal the pearls. At first, everyone wants to know his identity and several want to sign him to lucrative contracts.
Several minutes later, they think he helped steal the pearls. With no name and no look at his real face, they can't find him. And poor Nino, as a wanted man, can't cash in on his success. Broke and despondent, he is befriended by a lovely young composer (Fontaine) who attended the party to present her music to the maestro. Nino falls for her but can't tell her what happened.
Martini possessed a beautiful lyric tenor voice which he exhibits here, and also shared with audiences from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. Though he was a lyric tenor, for some reason in those days lyrics often tended to heavier repertoire, as he did, singing some Verdi and Puccini, though the works of Donizetti and Rossini were really his specialty. Here, we get to hear part of Una furtiva lagrima, which was right up his alley.
It's a nice film, worth it to hear Martini and see a very young and pretty Joan Fontaine.