Colorful melodrama, buttressed by fine production values
"Romanza Final" (note that "romanza" means "song") is a movie for those who like opera or movies about opera; it is especially directed to fans of José Carreras, and possibly to people interested in Spanish culture. Were it not for this movie, we probably never would have heard of Julián Gayarre, since he lived from 1844-1890 before the advent of the phonograph. He belongs to two traditions, one glorious, one tragic.
He was, first of all, one of an impressive number of Spanish-speaking singers who have, over the last century or more, enriched the world of opera. They are too numerous to mention, but names like Conchita Supervia, Victoria de los Angeles, Alfredo Kraus and Placido Domingo come to mind. He was also one of so many prodigiously talented performers of classical music who die young, often suddenly, leaving behind a shocked world, but spared the agony of old age and public indifference. Performers such as Caruso, Mario Lanza, Fritz Wunderlich, and Claudia Muzio departed while still at the height of their powers.
We are told that the scenario is part fact, part fictionalization and we are not entirely sure how to separate the two. The stages of his career are true to life, but what about his great love Alicia? Did she exist, is she entirely fiction or a conflation of several different women? The real question is "What is actually known about Julián Gayarre? Clearly, not enough.
The script itself follows an all too predictable course - an unusually gifted young singer, poor but industrious is accidentally discovered, leaves his child-hood sweetheart to pursue his career, re-unites with her after she is married and struggles with the demands of his job and the back-street affair. Alicia must lie to her suspicious husband who eventually confronts her and issues an ultimatum.
Several things prevent this film from sinking entirely in the soap bubbles - the color photography, the images of Spain, the aristocratic bearing of the performers and above all the great arias that pour forth from José Carreras who was here at the height of his vocal beauty. Soon after this movie was made (1986) he was felled by the illness that almost cost him his life. Today he must feel a special affinity for Gayarre who was not so fortunate. Carreras acquits himself well, saying his lines a bit mechanically but honestly and without trying to plummet depths that are not there.
He is partnered by Sydne Rome, a beguiling actress of doll-like beauty who, unlike her leading man, emotes to the maximum. Ms. Rome is well known in Europe where she has made something of a name for herself in European movies of the racier variety. Here, fully clothed, she becomes a major factor in keeping the film afloat. Her looks and his voice combine to infuse aesthetics and emotion (or is it schmaltz?) into the simple story.
All the actors speak Spanish except, I believe, Ms. Rome who appears to have been dubbed. There is a cameo from Monserrat Caballé, another magnificent Spanish soprano in the great tradition. Some new musical material was created for this film, including the somewhat over-blown "Vive".
The movie's shortcomings become less noticeable by the time it reaches its conclusion with striking images of a splendid monastery and the glorious orchestral sounds of zarzuela in the background.
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