The Godfather at the opera

25 March 2022

While betrayal, passion and murder are all themes you’d experience within an opera, we want to talk about one of cinema’s most notorious families, the Corleones, as seen in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, which is celebrating 50 years since its release this spring. The cinematic classic is often compared to opera and there are certainly some undeniably strong links.

The soundtrack to the original film was written by the Italian composer Nino Rota and there’s no escaping the influence of classical music, and opera in particular, in the Oscar winning score. The haunting compositions written especially for the film, could certainly be mistaken for something you would hear at one of our performances, but there are also familiar tunes from the opera greats that make an appearance. From the use of ‘Non so più’ (Cherubino’s Aria from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro) and Brindisi (from Verdi’s La traviata); to the way the music moves along in tandem with the plot, just as in an opera. The themes explored in the film would also easily fit into an opera: power, family, revenge, love, violence and, just like in this Season’s Don Giovanni, damnation in the form of divine justice and punishment. 

In the later film, The Godfather Part III, Anthony Corleone – son and grandson of the godfathers the films are named after – performs in Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana at Teatro Massimo in Palermo, having left the ‘family business’ to pursue a career as an opera singer. Coppola astutely makes it clear that there are several underlying parallels between the stories of the opera and film, the blatant Sicilian connection being the most obvious, alongside the ongoing violence. The ‘Intermezzo’ underpins the final act of the film, ending on a truly operatic tragedy – the death of his sister Mary, shot by an assassin on the steps of the opera house followed by the infamous silent scream of his father, the Godfather, Michael Corleone often described as one of the greatest cinema moments of all time.

Of course, there’s no way we could not mention the character Carlo Rizzi in the original film, played by Gianni Russo, although how much our Conductor Laureate would want to be associated with that character and his grizzly end, is a whole other question.

Both the original Godfather and Part II of the trilogy are currently enjoying a resurrection at the cinema but if you want to try something a little different, albeit very similar, why not visit Welsh National Opera on tour and experience why opera makes the ultimate movie soundtrack but is even more intense when you see it live on stage. It's an offer you can't refuse...