There’s plenty of drama to spare when it comes to the world of opera. Occasionally, filmmakers have been directly inspired by the songbooks of classical composers, while others have looked to the performances and thundering music to create symbolic, contemporary interpretations. Opera is rich, profound source material. The opulent costumes and staging, the history, and the emotional stories are ripe for cinematic adaptations. We’ve collected a few of our favorites for your perusal in celebration of the 109th anniversary of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and the Blu-ray release of Don Giovanni. See what a behind-the-scenes documentary, a Werner Herzog epic, and other retellings of opera’s theatrical tales have to offer after the jump.
Operetta superstar Jacques Offenbach wanted to reestablish his career with Les contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) in 1877. The German-born French composer was facing adversity from Parisians after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war. Unfortunately, he never lived to complete Hoffmann, leaving a family friend and his son to finish the composition. Enter legendary British filmmaking partners Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger — collectively known as The Archers, the name of their production outfit — who created a 1951 adaptation of the tragic, dramatic tale. A poet’s conflict between his romantic life and his art leads viewers through stories about three great loves lost: Olympia (a wind-up doll), Giulietta (an alluring Venetian courtesan), and Antonia (an ill singer). Stella, his current love, is a prima ballerina who reminds him of the past. Like the duo’s devastatingly beautiful The Red Shoes — which also starred Moira Shearer — Hoffmann is loaded with fantastical, uncanny imagery. The grand spectacle had a profound effect on directors George Romero and Martin Scorsese who have praised its imagination, music, and stunning visuals.