In 2006, a great deal of press surrounded the Metropolitan Opera’s decision to show live performances at the movies. But as long as there has been sound in film, opera stars have tried to have the best of both worlds.
In the early years of talkies, the musical romance One Night of Love showcased the vocal talents of Metropolitan Opera star, Grace Moore, as Mary Barrett, a young soprano who moves to Italy to study opera. Noted vocal teacher Guilo Monteverdi (Tullio Carminati) discovers her as a singing waitress, and sparks fly as he coaches her into a major opera star.
The film earned big bucks at the box office and was considered a major step forward in bringing “highbrow” culture to the masses. It also catapulted Moore into movie stardom (though her subsequent films never matched the popularity of this one). Her success opened the door for other opera singers in film, often with less than successful results.
The New York Times called the film a “brilliant combination of inspiring melodies and great fun.” And thanks to Moore’s delightful performance, the film still holds up quite well. Though Moore had obvious vocal talent, her voice can sound shrill to modern ears especially given the constraints of 1930s sound recording techniques. However, the film’s sound recording won an Oscar and a special technical Oscar for the application of the Vertical Cut Disc Method.
The film’s score, with arias from La Traviata, Carmen and Madama Butterfly, features more arranging than original music. The original score, what little there is of it, is attributed as “thematic music” to director/composer Victor Schertzinger and lyricist Gus Kahn, who wrote the title song. Sung over the opening credits, the song blends into the first scene in which Mary is competing on a weekly radio contest for up-and-coming opera singers. The tune later serves as the underscoring of her blossoming love for Monteverdi. It’s a pretty melody but when used under almost every amorous scene, it dilutes its effectiveness.
Interestingly, the melody for “One Night of Love” contains the same first four notes Puccini wrote for the entrance of Cio-Cio San in Butterfly. This works beautifully in the climax of the film as Mary and Monteverdi finally acknowledge their love during a performance of the opera.
In addition to its Sound award, the film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Moore as Best Actress. Not surprisingly, the music also won the first-ever Oscar for Best Scoring. However, it was not “one night of love” for Schertzinger and Kahn. Because of the arcane rules in the early years of the category, Columbia Studio Music Department head Louis Silvers was awarded the Oscar, while composer and lyricist went home empty handed.