Beres­ford gives new life to Otello


OPERA-lov­ing movie di­rec­tor Bruce Beres­ford rarely gets to share his clas­si­cal mu­sic pas­sion on the big screen. Arias do not fea­ture in Don’s Party (1976) or The Fringe Dwellers (1986), Par­adise Road (1997) or Mao’s Last Dancer (2009). Not even Beres­ford’s stir­ring Breaker Mo­rant (1980) had an ounce of opera.

“Just the sound of howl­ing wind across the veldt,” he says at the Athenaeum Theatre. The big ex­cep­tion is Driv­ing Miss Daisy (1989), which won a Best Pic­ture Os­car.

Di­rect­ing this tale of an el­derly Jewish widow and her black driver in Amer­ica’s South dur­ing the 1950s, Beres­ford de­cided to have Miss Daisy (Jes­sica Tandy) hear an aria on the car ra­dio from Dvo­rak’s opera, Rusalka.

“I just got that one in,” he says. “When we’d made the film and showed it to the dis­trib­u­tors, they said: ‘It’s not bad ... but you’ve got to get rid of that ter­ri­ble mu­sic. Can’t she lis­ten to some coun­try and western in­stead?’

“I said, ‘No. If you look at the orig­i­nal play (of Driv­ing

Miss Daisy), he spec­i­fies that his grand­mother used to lis­ten to the opera ev­ery Satur­day af­ter­noon’.

“I got my way. And do you know what? Be­cause of that aria in that film, peo­ple started putting on Rusalka again, which hadn’t been done for years.”

Beres­ford — whose lat­est film, Ladies in Black, has been a box of­fice hit — is now join­ing Mel­bourne Opera in

re­viv­ing Rossini’s neglected Otello.

Rarely per­formed, un­like Verdi’s later ver­sion, this early 19th-cen­tury opera teems with tenors, and Beres­ford is savour­ing its “fan­tas­tic flights of melodic mu­sic”.

“What I like about Mel­bourne Opera is, they dance to their own tune,” he says. “They’re not afraid to do stuff out of the stan­dard reper­toire.”

Beres­ford — who has di­rected sev­eral op­eras, in­clud­ing An­dre Previn’s A

Street­car Named De­sire — sees par­al­lels be­tween live ac­tion and cel­lu­loid.

“With opera, you have to think, ‘Ev­ery­body’s watch­ing this in wide shot.’ So you have to come up with clever group­ings us­ing light­ing and so on. They’re your close­ups.”

Does he have any favourite opera com­posers?

“Ben­jamin Brit­ten is right up there.” Richard Wagner? “No, not a great Wagner fan. I find the li­bret­tos are im­pen­e­tra­ble ... bit like books by (J.R.R.) Tolkien. Leaves me ab­so­lutely cold.” Peter Jackson’s Lord of the

Rings tril­ogy is an­other mat­ter. Beres­ford, who has watched all three films, reck­ons “they’re bril­liantly di­rected”.

“There’s no doubt he (Jackson) is one of the great­est di­rec­tors. A great film­maker.”


Otello di­rec­tor Bruce Beres­ford with tenor Stephen Smith and so­prano Elena Xan­thoudakis. Pic­ture: NICOLE CLEARY

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