This Oscar-winning documentary on the chorus of the San Francisco Opera Company is a sturdy blend of talking heads, performance and rehearsal scenes and candid off-the-job footage. The key to IN THE SHADOW OF THE STAR's inherent appeal is that it examines not the soloists, the royalty of opera, but the unsung--so to speak--proletariat.
Filmmakers Irving Saraf and Allie Light delve into the backgrounds of the singers and explore quite efficiently the complexity of staging operas, some of which can employ up to 60 people onstage at the same time. The operas illustrated are familiar enough for non-fans and include snippits from Macbeth, La Gioconda, Die Meistersinger, Il Trovatore, La Boheme, The Rake's Progress, The Flying Dutchman and L'Africaine. The singers are personable and witty, even when obviously frustrated by being chorus members, not soloists. Still, most of them fully realize and acknowledge that the concentration, travel, study, myriad auditions and total commitment (often to the exclusion of a personal life) demanded by a successful solo career is not for them.
One's only gripe is that while the opera sequences are identified by title, the filmmakers' subjects are not, perhaps a comment on the "anonymous" quality of chorus work. Still, by film's end, we are able to pick out now-familiar faces from the mass of performers onstage. One of the film's quiet but captivating pleasures is that it incisively looks at people who thoroughly enjoy what they're doing with their lives, capturing, as one of them puts it, the "nirvana of performance."
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