Opera to big screen — From 'Rent' to 'Aida,' Hollywood embraces a classic medium

Memo to all struggling actors: Find a good vocal coach. Building on the success of The Three Tenors and the La Bohème-inspired Broadway smash Rent — whose national tour kicks off this week in Boston — Hollywood producers are now looking to opera as their inspiration for a host of projects. Current opera-themed productions waiting for their curtain call:

Diana Ross will star in a remake of the 1982 French thriller Diva, about an opera-loving courier whose illicit recording of his favorite singer gets him entangled in a web of intrigue.

Walt Disney Theatrical Productions, the three-year-old division that brought Beauty and the Beast to the Great White Way, is developing a new musical based on material from Verdi’s Aïda for a future Broadway project with music and lyrics by the Oscar-winning Lion King duo Elton John and Tim Rice.

Faye Dunaway, who has assumed Zoe Caldwell’s starring role as diva Maria Callas in the touring production of Master Class, will coproduce and star in a screen version of Terrence McNally’s Tony award-winning play. Meanwhile, New Line Cinema is planning a Callas biopic based on Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington’s 1981 biography of the singer, possibly to star Meryl Streep as Callas.

Sony Classical Films is developing a big-screen adaptation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

Also in development is TriStar’s Tristan and Isolde, based on the legend that inspired Wagner’s opera, to be produced by Douglas Wick (The Craft).

Popularizing opera is hardly a new concept, though it hasn’t always met with Rent-style success: The story of Aïda invaded Broadway before, in the 1952 flop My Darlin’ Aida, and Tristan und Isolde‘s romantic plot spawned the quickly forgotten 1979 feature Lovespell, with Richard Burton. But if today’s movie producers have their way, opera’s current renaissance will last more than just one act. ”Opera in its purest form is basically just storytelling,” says Rent cast member Adam Pascal. ”And these stories have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years for a reason.” Which is to say when it comes to opera and Hollywood, the fat lady has yet to sing.

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