Mozart at the movies

12 October 2020
Seated woman with man kneeling before her clasping hands intimate moment.

Here at Welsh National Opera, we understand the appeal of Mozart’s music and thoroughly enjoy putting on his operas, such as our production of The Marriage of Figaro that began to tour as part of our Spring 2020 Season. We recognise the humour these operas contain, the charm of the characters, but also the strength of the music which so ably conveys dramatic meaning – but also is itself able to be humorous. With arias that portray such a huge range of emotions, and the breakneck speed at which scenes change, Mozart uses his music to comment on the character of each role, as well as depict the action happening on stage. It is no wonder his music so often features on movie soundtracks.

The film industry has used his music since the days of the silent movie, including original versions of Wuthering Heights (1939) – utilising ‘Rondo alla turca’ as a theme for Heathcliff’s return; and The Ipcress File (1965) – one of many movies that uses Mozart’s ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’. 1949’s Ealing comedy, Kind Hearts and Coronets, featured ‘Il mio tesoro’ from Don Giovanni at several points throughout the film, highlighting the film’s narrative of revenge and use of deception and disguise. Then, tying in with the Hitchcock thrillers theme of our lockdown performance of Psycho, Mozart’s Symphony No 34 features in Hitchcock’s 1958 film, Vertigo.

Two women looking at a letter smiling.

The list of films goes on, including some of the biggest brands of the 70s, from Bond with Piano Concerto No 21 in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), to Woody Allen – his film Annie Hall (1977) featured the Jupiter Symphony. The Bond franchise returned to Mozart in 1987 with The Living Daylights featuring not only Symphony No 40 ‘Molto allegro’, but also ‘Voi, che sapete’ from The Marriage of Figaro.

At the end of the 20th century you get one of the most iconic uses of Mozart’s music in film: The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Marriage of Figaro’s ‘Sull’aria’ – Tim Robbins’ character, an inmate, plays it out over the prison’s tannoy system having locked himself in the warden’s office, and the whole prison just stops to listen, to be swept away by the sound, finding in it a representation of freedom.

Woman singing wistfully into the distance.

More recently, Mozart’s music can be heard on the soundtrack of films as varied as this year’s adaptation of Emma, The Lost City of Z (2016), 2017’s blockbuster The Greatest Showman and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Babyteeth (2019) and even Trolls: World Tour (2020) and Toy Story 4 (2019).

There are also films based on Mozart himself, or featuring him as a character; including possibly the most well-known, Amadeus (1984), based on the 1979 Peter Shaffer play. In a far more tongue-in-cheek portrayal, following that of Beethoven and Bach in the original (1989) and second (1991) films in the series, Mozart features in the brand new third Bill & Ted film, Face the Music out this September.

All in all, it goes to show just how adaptable, but also applicable Mozart’s music is, no matter the era and therefore audience. So why not give his operas a go and give the man’s original genius a chance to move you?