Erich Wolfgang Korngold was an Austrian-born prodigy best known for his ballet Der Schneemann (The Snowman) which he composed when he was 11-years-old. Korngold would go on to compose and produce some of the most influential music of Hollywood’s Golden Age, winning Oscars for his scores in the Anthony Adverse (1936) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).
Korngold is just one of the composers featuring in ARIA (others include Wagner, Vivaldi and Bach) in this anthology film which comprises of 10 short stories told entirely through classical opera and which screened for only the second time here in Melbourne three weeks ago. Produced in 1987 by the British visionary Don Boyd, ARIA features such directing luminaries as Robert Altman, Jean-Luc Godard and Ken Russell and the acting talents of Tilda Swindon, John Hurt, and Bridget Fonda.
I took my seat at the relatively early hour of 9:30 in the morning and waited for the curtains to draw. I hadn’t researched the film beforehand and wondered what my still dry retinas were about to experience. Within seconds they were dazzled by bright lights illuminating the title, my ear-drums buzzing from the Italian symphonic soundscape. The rods and cones within my retinas relayed urgent signals to my, until then, dormant brain as ARIA began with a story about the attempted assassination of a king.
Only lasting 15 minutes, each narrative jumps across time and place. The mixture of ’80’s pop-culture imagery and a 19th-century classical opera soundtrack creates an affecting contrast and was a beautiful way of paying homage to 300 classical musicians and composers – evoking emotions that couldn’t be conveyed without the combination of the two.
Amongst the narratives is a wonderful tales about a couple that runs away to Vegas, a Romeo and Juliet tale of forbidden love. They marry and soon enough, they are tangled together, getting down to the physical side of amour with great intensity. The Italian opera slowly building up, the orchestra chiming and banging. In a matter of seconds she sings out in bliss whilst I am left watching sweat dripping from the bottom of the homme. They glide hand-in-hand into the bathroom, lay in the bath and slit their wrists together in an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
We have stories set around an asylum, a car crash, a couple of lovers set against the dead looking city of Bruges and that cultural touchstone of the ’80s, the gymnasium.
I left the cinema wondering how I might construct such beautiful moments in my life? What would my Aria be? If it can only take 15 minutes to tell a meaningful story there’s hope for us all.