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Jessica Duchen
Friday 23rd October 2009
Return to Rota's Glass Mountain...

Historical Friday afternoon - and some roundabout discussions and pathways associated with the section in the Myths post referring to film music led me to rediscover a piece that haunted me as a kid in the days when old films with great music were often on TV on Sunday afternoons. I haven't seen The Glass Mountain since I was about 11 years old, but always wondered what had become of it, and its gorgeous opera-within-a-film. Who was that by? Nino what...?

It was, of course, Nino Rota, and the 1949 film stars not only Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray but, er, Tito Gobbi. It's a tear-jerker about a composer/fighter pilot who is shot down in the Italian mountains and falls in love with the contessa who rescues him, though he has a wife back home. He is told of the legend of the Glass Mountain: that only a true love's name will produce an echo when shouted beside this mountain (or something like that). Torn between his two loves, he writes an opera based on the legend. And after the show, the showdown: an elopement, a chase, a plane crash - which is the love that is true? 

Rota lived 1911-1979 and was a pupil of Casella (who was himself a pupil of Faure). He became director of the conservatoire in Bari in 1950 and remained there the rest of his life. He wrote 11 operas, numerous ballets and a wealth of concert music. But he also wrote the scores for movies by the likes of Zefirelli, Visconti and Coppola, to name but a few...including Roma, Satyricon, La Strada, La Dolce Vita, Romeo and Juliet, The Leopard and more... So do we ever hear his operas or his serious works live today? Do we hell. He and Bernard Herrmann share a centenary in 1911. Perhaps they should share some concert/opera resuscitation too. There is a healthy discography, viewable at his website, but perhaps it's time for some orchestras and opera houses to take a look. 

In the meantime, here is an operatic extract from the film, starring Gobbi and soprano Elena Rizzieri.


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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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