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IN THE SHADOW OF THE STARS

USA, 1990 (MIFF 1991, Documentaries)

Director: Irving Saraf, Allie Light

Like A Chorus Line, In the Shadow of the Stars goes behind the scenes, discovering among the choristers of the San Francisco Opera the aspiration of singers who want to be soloists and who dream of being stars. The San Francisco Opera Chorus is one of the world's finest, yet its members are rarely noted as they portray masses of peasants, ladies-in-waiting, soldiers and slaves. Their lives and the plots of grand opera - where ambitions are as magnified as the voices -merge in a film where the musical drama unfolds through the eyes of the choristers rather than the soloists. For once, the magnificent choral passages of Verdi, Wagner and Puccini (from works such as Rigoletto, The Flying Dutchman and La Boheme) take precedence over arias and duets.

In telling the choristers' stories, Stars also examines the circumstances that determine who becomes a star and who remains in the background. The film opens on the "Patria Oppressa" chorus from Verdi's Macbeth as the choristers move from the deep shadows of a bare stage into the light. From this mass of singers come the individual stories: a tenor who grew up in the slums of the Bronx and was saved from illness and madness by his music; a soprano whose life is like a tragicomic opera plot; a mezzo who wishes she were a soprano: a black baritone who's suffered prejudice against his colour and weight; a singing couple who perform Mozart's "La ci darem" while nursing their baby; a former theatre actor who compares Boris Goudonov to Auschwitz and Cambodia...

The film uses portions from eight operas to parallel and comment on individual stories, exploring the blurred boundary between private lives and staged spectacles. Subjects are filmed in dressing rooms, rehearsals, performances , auditions and special scenes such as a sopranos' tea party and a tenors' high note competition.Opera is life and life is opera in this rare and privileged look at a genuinely "grand" world.

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