When The Moon Hits Your Eyes...
Did anyone see that gorgeous Harvest Moon last Thursday? It was magnificent. In fact, as is the way with Harvest Moons (moons that rise closest to the autumnal equinox), I feel like we’ve had several nights in a row of full moons. It inspired me to watch some old favorites, particularly my video recording of the NYC Opera’s 1989 production of Sigmund Romberg’s operetta The New Moon starring Richard White. From moons and operas, it was an easy segue way to watching another favorite that throughly inspired me.
As many of you know, I am a great lover of the opera. I suppose it goes back to my youth, when my father, who owned a cleaning business in New York City, would take me with him to clean his clients’ homes. Many of the his clients were quite affluent, sitting on boards and committees for opera guilds and companies and, in one case, even serving as one of the chairpersons at the NYC Metropolitan Opera. On those days when dad had to bring me to work with him, I was taken in hand by said clients, settled before the tube televisions in their homes, and introduced to live video recordings of Tosca, The Ring of the Nibelung, Carmen, Lakmé, etc. One particular moment is carved into my psyche- even though I couldn’t have been more than five: when Alfredo tosses his fistful of winnings at Violetta in La Traviata (see post here). I may have only been a tiny tot, but the passion of that moment has had a lasting impression on me.
Passion, dear readers. It’s a huge component of the opera- ANY opera. I would even venture to say, it is opera.
However, the solidification of this opinion came to me when I re-watched one of my old favorites this week. It’s not a weighty film, either, from which you would expect such a realization. Nope. It’s a romantic comedy.
In the character of Ronny Cammerari from Moonstruck (1987), I saw the perfect embodiment of the unpretentious heart of a true opera lover. In fact, I would go even further than that. Ronny Cammerari’s life is opera. (I’m not saying this because he’s Italian, either, although I think being Italian gives him a decided advantage when it comes to opera flowing through his veins.) His deep passions within respond to the deep passion he hears and witnesses in the opera. You know that proverbial wisdom about deep calling unto deep?
How, you might ask? How is it possible that a man’s life could embody an art form so fully? (I’m reminded of the old idiom, art imitates life.)
I offer you the scene in which we meet Ronny for the first time. Loretta Casterini, played by Cher, is newly engaged to Johnny Cammerari, Ronny’s older brother. Johnny proposes to her the night he departs for Sicily to see his dying mother. Just as he’s about to board his trans-atlantic flight, Johnny hands Loretta a business card and implores her to ask his brother, Ronny- someone she never knew existed- to come to the wedding. He alludes to bad blood between them, but does not elaborate. So, being the dutiful fiancée, Loretta tries to reach him via phone. When that doesn’t work, she goes to his place of employ, the bake shop that he owns, and finds him baking bread in the basement.
From the first moment that you see Ronny, played spectacularly by Nicholas Cage, he simply seethes churning passions, his inner demons all but visible in his stance and mannerisms. He is the prima donna assoluta, the absolute first lady of this operatic stage. If you listen closely, you can almost here the beginnings of an aria here… an aria di bravura with the promise of florid volatility filled with savage boldness and energy in the crescendo.
The verismo begins. Amidst the heat of the ovens and the rising dough of a hundred loaves, Loretta quickly learns what the bad blood between brothers is all about. Ronny blames Johnny for being maimed- his left hand was chewed off in a bread slicer five years ago- and then subsequently being abandoned by his fiancée.
Loretta listens to Ronny’s tale of woe, and makes one observation: But that’s not Johnny’s fault.
Now, dear readers, this is where life becomes opera in 3…2…1…
I know it’s not set to music. However, this scene practically screams to be scored. How easily the intensity of feeling would translate into orchestration and arias! It would be fantastic.
However, it’s not just this part. Nearly every scene in Moonstruck possesses the same element of intensity and drama. In the following scene, Loretta and Ronny get into a fight about who they are and the choices they’ve made; it’s all building intensity ending in shouts and tables flipping and, finally, a passionate kiss. (It practically screams for Puccini to render it in song.)
Or perhaps the scene after Loretta learns of her father’s infidelity, when Ronny delivers a searing soliloquy about what love is:
Now, take it from someone who has listened and watched a great many operas; Ronny’s summation of love could be the lines to any number of arias, whether in Verdi’s La Traviata or Rigoletto or Puccini’s Tosca or Bizet’s Carmen. Too often to count, the characters in operas come to this conclusion; love is the grand fire, but a fire will consume you. At this point in Moonstruck, Ronny is imploring Loretta to join him in the flames.
But then there are moments, as in opera when the arias are softer, when Ronny’s life mellifluously flows into legatos that can almost make you cry they are so tender.
Who could forget the scene at the Met where Ronny takes Loretta to see La Boheme? It’s Act III. Mimi and Rodolpho, the principal characters of the opera, are reunited. They are declaring their love again for each other, in spite of Rodolpho’s jealousy and Mimi’s sickness. Hope comes alive in their love, even though nothing has truly changed. Addio dulce svegliare plays; Mimi and Rodolpho sing their duet. It’s all so poignant and heart-wrenching, as Puccini so often is. Loretta is transfixed, listening to the beautiful music, feeling the pathos of tragic love. A tear slips down her cheek. Ronny sees this. He takes her hand and gently brushes a kiss across her knuckles. I can almost hear the vibration of bow on strings, the low tessitura of a his voice (because in opera, it’s all done with the voice) as he sings his words of comfort before sealing them with a kiss. In fact, the actions of Loretta and Ronny perfectly mirror those of Mimi and Rodolpho at this point in La Boheme.
Couple the emotional simpatico of Moonstruck with the soundtrack, which is full of music from La Boheme- one of my favorite operas of all time, and you have a tour de force production on the power of opera. Passion, dear readers, passion.
Has the Moon ever inspired you to do something, like watch a favorite movie or, maybe, join a lycanthropic society? (No judgement here. Werewolves are people, too.) Maybe there’s a favorite book of yours that you associate with the Moon (for me, that would be Shadow of the Moon by M. M. Kaye - see post here- because, well, I think the name say it all)? I guess what I’m asking is, what do you do when you’re Moonstruck?