Filmmakers' fascination with opera dates back to the silent era but it was not until the late 1980s that critical enquiries into the intersection of opera and cinema began to emerge. Jeongwon Joe focusses primarily on the role of opera as soundtrack by exploring the distinct effects opera produces in film, effects which differ from other types of soundtrack music, such as jazz or symphony. These effects are examined from three perspectives: peculiar qualities of the operatic voice; various properties commonly associated with opera, such as excess, otherness or death; and multifaceted tensions between opera and cinema - for instance, opera as live, embodied, high art and cinema as technologically mediated, popular entertainment.
Joe argues that when opera excerpts are employed on soundtracks they tend to appear at critical moments of the film, usually associated with the protagonists, and the author explores why it is opera, not symphony or jazz, that accompanies poignant scenes like these. Joe's film analysis focuses on the time period of the post-1970s, which is distinguished by an increase of opera excerpts on soundtracks to blockbuster titles, the commercial recognition of which promoted the production of numerous opera soundtrack CDs in the following years. Joe incorporates an empirical methodology by examining primary sources such as production files, cue-sheets and unpublished interviews with film directors and composers to enhance the traditional hermeneutic approach. The films analysed in her book include Woody Allen’s Match Point, David Cronenberg’s M. Butterfly, and Wong Kar-wai’s 2046.
‘This book is a fascinating investigation into the productive frictions between opera and cinema: death, murder, divas, cinema’s effect on opera performances, and opera in the context of the compilation score. Joe’s concept of the "geno-song" in particular is key in soundtrack studies.’
Phil Powrie, University of Surrey, UK
'Combining an engagement with a wide range of theoretical approaches with well-chosen case studies, Jeongwon Joe’s Opera as Soundtrack will appeal to students of both opera and film music. She explores a variety of operatic tropes in American, European, and Asian film, which cluster particularly around love and death (of course!), and often get entangled in the "problem" of women’s voices, and of women who sing. Joe posits that film’s persistent obsession with and anxiety about opera might just be matched by opera’s envy of this upstart art.’
Robynn Stilwell, Georgetown University, USA
‘Opera as soundtrack offre al lettore numerosi spunti di riflessione e di approfondimento grazie anche alla aggiornatissima bibliografia che spazia, ovviamente, dalla storia del cinema a quella dell’opera. Si tratta comunque di un libro di livello universitario o addirittura post-universitario … ma che potrà dare soddisfazione sia ai melomani sia agli amanti della settima arte.’ [‘Opera as Soundtrack offers the reader much food for thought and more in-depth study thanks also to its extremely up-to-date bibliography which ranges … from the history of cinema to that of opera. This is a book for university level or even post-graduate study … that will also satisfy both opera fans and lovers of The Seventh Art.’] Operaclick
Contents: Prologue: tracing opera as soundtrack; Opera as geno-song; Opera in cinematic death; Opera in Woody Allen’s Match Point; Is cinema’s anxiety opera’s envy?; Film divas: the problem and the power of singing women; Behind the discourse on the opera-cinema encounter: film, music criticism and the ‘great divide’ between modernism and postmodernism; Epilogue: an ethnographic postscript; Select bibliography; Index.