Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Because I rented several operas, Netflix thought I would enjoy Fitzcarraldo, a movie by Werner Herzog.

From an opera devotee point of view the movie begins oddly. Enrico Caruso and Sarah Bernhardt, we are asked to believe, have traveled to an obscure area of Brazil in order to perform together in Ernani. Bernhardt mimes her part, extending her arms wildly and going constantly up and down stairs. Someone sitting in the pit actually sings her part. Poor Bernhardt. What a horrible way to remember her. She is portrayed as enormously tall and gaunt--it's obviously played by a man in drag. They speak of her wooden leg. It's true, she continued to perform Camille after her leg was amputated, but in a wheel chair. And it was her voice one would have traveled to hear, not this peculiar mime. If it really happened, I don't want to know.

In the context of the movie she is just a celebrity, someone people would travel to see and pay money for. That's what celebrity is good for, I guess. Our hero, Fitz (Klaus Kinski), has dragged his wife (Claudia Cardinale--her voice provided by the excellent German dubbing industry) down the Amazon to see this performance by Caruso, his idol, and they arrive just in time to see Ernani kill himself.

Fitz is then even more determined to bring opera to his remote part of the jungle. He knows that he would have to be fabulously rich to accomplish this and has already failed to build a railroad and establish a profitable ice business. Now he's ready to try rubber.

The movie is mainly an adventure in the jungle with friendly Indians and plenty of hardship, but the scenes are peppered with Caruso recordings played on the Victrola Fitz takes everywhere with him. The quartet from Rigoletto is a popular favorite. It isn't Fitz, it's Caruso who wins over the natives who then solve all Fitz's problems for him.

It's a great movie about ecstatic love of opera. It ends in triumph with a scene from I Puritani played from the deck of his boat. Fitz is indeed fabulously rich.


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