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Snooty opera singer meets a rough-and-tumble fisherman in the Louisiana bayous, but this fisherman can sing! Her agent lures him away to New Orleans to teach him to sing opera, but comes to regret this rash decision when the singers fall in love.Written by
Using the formula that worked so well in "That Midnight Kiss," Mario Lanza, this time one Pepe Duvalle, is again discovered by someone with connections to the opera world while he's singing his heart out doing his normal job. Here he's a bayou fisherman, but after the loss of their boat, Pepe and his Uncle Nicky (J. Carrol Naish) head to New Orleans to look up the opera director (David Niven) who offered Pepe an opportunity after hearing him in the village when Pepe joins his prima donna (Grayson) in song. Pepe finds himself in love with the somewhat cold diva, who is being pursued by Niven.
Lanza is in fine form as a crude, loud, uneducated man who, in order to fit into New Orleans society and the opera world, has to learn manners, as well as how to dance and dress. A natural actor, he makes his complete transformation believable. He sings Jose's aria from "Carmen" beautifully, and this film introduces his hit, "Be My Love" to audiences, which he sings with Grayson. With the diminutive soprano, he also does "Libiamo" from "La Traviata." In the days in which this story is set, a singer like Grayson would have sung "Traviata," though audiences aren't used to hearing a fluttery coloratura sing it any longer. The two perform the love duet from "Madama Butterfly" as well - an absolutely horrid choice for Grayson, calling for a much weightier voice. Obviously the repertoire was chosen with Lanza in mind. Had MGM not used "Lucia" in "That Midnight Kiss," they could have perhaps used it here. Grayson gets to use her high extension in "Je suis Titania," but the rest of the aria suffers from pitch difficulties.
Lanza really helped to commercialize opera in the United States, but he did it without the help of MGM. Is it necessary for Niven to give the wrong explanation for the duet "La ci darem la mano?" And why, during the Butterfly duet, which is total foreplay, does Grayson constantly try to get away from Lanza? No matter her personal feelings, she was on stage playing a role.
Grayson looks lovely in an assortment of magnificent gowns and hats, and if her voice doesn't match Lanza's, it doesn't mean she could not have sung opera, which is often the criticism. There is definitely a place for coloratura sopranos in the opera world - just not singing with spinto tenors.
J. Carrol Naish plays an embarrassing, annoying stereotype as Uncle Nicky; Niven is wonderful, if underused, and his perfect voice and smooth manners are in great juxtaposition to Lanza's bumbling Pepe. James Mitchell, known to soap opera audiences now as Palmer Courtland on "All My Children" has a good featured part as a friend of Pepe's from the bayou, and he and a very young Rita Moreno, who's in love with Pepe, do a spirited dance number.
Lanza's reign at MGM was disappointingly short, and yo-yo dieting and drinking would claim his life nine years after this film. But what years, in which he gifted the world with his fresh, passionate, Italianate sound and thrilled millions of people all over the world.
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