In the Shadow of the Stars
1991 Directed by Irving Saraf, Allie Light. Starring The San Francisco Opera Chorus.
REVIEWED By Pamela Bruce, Fri., June 5, 1992
Mention the world of opera and more than likely, the names of such performers as Pavarotti, Norman, Domingo and Price usually spring to mind. Yet, in their documentary In the Shadow of the Stars, co-directors Saraf and Light strive to move away from examining the heavily publicized domain of operatic megastars and instead, focus their energy toward dissolving the anonymity of those forgotten performers whose presence is essential to complete the pageantry and color of all opera productions: the members of the chorus. In a nonfictional, more upbeat take on A Chorus Line, this film profiles the lives and aspirations of eleven members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus through individual interviews which are paralleled with their performances as a group in productions of La Boheme, Il Trovatore, and Macbeth, among others (these performance segments, I might add, border on breathtaking due to Michael Chin's strong, vivid cinematography). Although these featured choral members share a mutual love for their art and maintain a supportive environment among themselves, their individual backgrounds and ambitions are diverse. One member is a second generation truck driver -- and opera aficionado, while another member found opera to be the key to escape a dire, oppressive tenement life in the Bronx -- only to eventually end up, for a short time, in a mental institution because of a nervous breakdown due to over-preparation for his career. Some aspire to become soloists. One member tells of literally living out of her suitcase for a year in order to achieve her dream -- only to have it go up in smoke when the Frankfurt Opera House burns to the ground several days before her debut. Others are content to merely remain “in the shadow of the stars,” as one member relates a story of a former member -- a sort of “diva groupie” -- who used to surreptitiously film performances with his 8mm camera while on stage. However, you really have to be an opera fan to fully appreciate this documentary because the parallels drawn between the individual choral members, and the subject matter of the operas in which they perform in are completely lost to those unfamiliar with this musical territory. Likewise, if you have little or no interest in opera, this film can be a bit tedious due to the self-absorbed observations of some members. But, for those hardcore operaheads who have always wondered how many sopranos it takes to sing a high C, it takes seven sopranos to sing a high C -- one to sing it and six to say they could have sung it better.