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.”
MELBOURNE OPERA PRESENTS ROSSINI’S OTELLO, ATHENAEUM THEATRE, OCTOBER 17, 20, 24, 27. melbourneopera.com
Otello director Bruce Beresford with tenor Stephen Smith and soprano Elena Xanthoudakis. Picture: NICOLE CLEARY