Lauritz Melchior Web
Lauritz Melchior's Filmography
In 1944, during the final year of the Second World War, 54 year old Lauritz Melchior joined the ranks of many Metropolitan Opera singers before him by making his first Hollywood movie. Over the next eight years, Lauritz Melchior would appear in five movie musicals for MGM and Paramount studios, Thrill of a Romance, Three Sisters from Boston, This Time for Keeps, Luxury Liner and The Stars are Singing, playing supporting roles of various size.
This page provides plot outlines of each film, and the context in which each of Lauritz Melchior's musical numbers were performed. There is more to these modest pictures than meets the modern-day eye and ear. This page will also discuss Melchior's participation in these films as part of the larger contexts surrounding their creation.
of A Romance, MGM, 1945
(Click on the above link for the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) entry for "Thrill of a Romance")
Produced by Joe Pasternak; Directed by Richard Thorpe
|Right: Sheet Music for "Please
Don't Say No" depicting the Thrill of a Romance's stars
Johnson, Williams, Dorsey and Melchior.
Sample lyric: "I've so much love to impart/it's making my heart overflow!"
The scene is a Southern California hotel resort during the final year of WWII. An aging, crash dieting Danish opera singer named Nils Knudsen (Lauritz Melchior) uses his vacation as an opportunity to exercise his voice. To wake himself up, he declaims "Vesti la Giubba" from the balcony of his suite; then performs Grieg's "Jag Elsker Dig" in Danish and English with the hotel orchestra at the request of bandleader Tommy Dorsey (playing himself).
When faced with a plate of carrots, Knudsen asks his waiter: "do I look like a rabbit?"
Knudsen isn't the only vacationer struggling to curb his earthly desires. Newlywed Cynthia Glenn Delbar (Esther Williams), whose businessman husband (unknowingly a bigamist) has left her on their honeymoon to return to his work, finds herself falling in love with returning serviceman Thomas "Tommy" Milvaine, as she hears the strains of an English-language translation of Schubert's "Serenade" which Knudsen sings to an elderly lady.
Once Knudsen learns of the romance between Mrs. Delbar and Milvaine, he does everything he can to get them married to each other. Aside from the follow-your-heart advice ("I have lived a lot...and I have loved a lot"), his strategy also involves singing: "Lonely Night," a violin serenade credited to Hungarian Karl Hubay, or "Vive l'Amour," (traditional/Stoll/R. Blane/K. Thompson).
Knudsen also abandons his starvation diet, declaring, "I want what I want when I want it" (Victor Herbert).
Eventually, Knudsen goes so far as to "lend his voice" to Milvaine so that the young lovers can be united for good. The successful ploy, involving not only Knudsen, but also Dorsey and his band, and "Please don't say no (say maybe)," (R. Freed/S. Fain), provides a closing scene emphasizing the comedy of romance.
It isn't only Knudsen-Melchior and Dorsey's band who perform in Thrill of Romance. Teen musicians get space as well. A young female pianist, introduced as Dorsey's daughter, plays for the hotel crowd.
More important is the subplot concerning the hotel's teenage African-American bellhop Lyonel (Jerry Scott). The bellhop has a talent for singing, but, of course, no money for lessons or opportunities to perform. After the young man compliments Knudsen on his singing, Knudsen and Dorsey urge him to sing "Because" for them and the hotel crowd, which Lyonel does. Later, we learn that Knudsen has decided to sponsor the bellhop's singing lessons. Lauritz Melchior later alluded to Jerry Scott when he said, "[Scott] was very much in demand at the night spots. Those who handled him did not sense the danger of overwork until it was too late. Too much singing at the critical time had overtaxed his vocal cords and his voice was injured." (see Melchior, "Can Your Child Sing?")
Thrill of a Romance was released in the United States and Europe just following "V-E" day. With its postwar declarations of anti-self-deprivation, and thanks to the popularity of Van Johnson among teenage girls, the movie proved a huge financial success for MGM. For Melchior, it helped give him the large concert audience that would become increasingly important in his life as he began to wind down his career in opera. Most of the songs Melchior recorded for the soundtrack became part of his lighter repertoire for television and popular radio.
Esther Williams fondly recalled Melchior's friendliness on the set of their first movie together in her 1999 memoirs, The Million-Dollar Mermaid, while Van Johnson attended the 1963 funeral of Lauritz Melchior's wife, Kleinchen.
Sisters from Boston, MGM, 1946
Produced by Joe Pasternak; Directed by Henry Koster
Left: Lauritz Melchior as
Louis XVI and Kathryn Grayson as Marie Antoinette in "Two Sisters from
Right: Melchior with Jimmy Durante
It is the early years of the 20th Century, and young Bostonian Abigail Chandler (Kathryn Grayson), wants to sing at New York's leading opera house. Instead, she has been forced to make her living performing vaudeville-style at a disreputable New York City saloon with accompanist "Spike" Merango (Jimmy Durante). Abigail's parents send her sister Martha (June Allyson) to New York with orders to bring Abigail back home. But soon after Martha arrives in the City, she falls in love with wealthy Lawrence Patterson Jr. (Peter Lawford). Patterson's stuffy father, as luck would have it, happens to be on the board of the opera company.
Grayson's desperate efforts to audition for the opera, including sneaking backstage and running onstage during the performance of "My Country," an English-language opera created by MGM from themes by Liszt, make her a major nuisance to the temperamental star of the opera house, a famous Danish opera singer named Richard Olstrom (Lauritz Melchior).
While Abigail and Martha plot out how to make their respective dreams come true, Olstrom steps into a studio to record the "Prize Song" from Die Meistersinger in a scene parodying the awkwardness and limitations of acoustic recording procedures.
Olstrom's short fuse extends to his relationships with his colleagues. In rehearsals of the bridal chamber scene from Lohengrin (also sung in English), he bickers with his Elsa (soprano uncredited), shouting that she is too fat.
Perhaps Olstrom's antagonism with his leading lady serves as one of the motivating factors in Abigail Chandler's ultimate acceptance as one of the opera house's leading sopranos. She and Olstrom partner in an English-language opera created by MGM based on themes by Mendelssohn called "Marie Antoinette."
William von Wymetal, Jr. is credited with overseeing the opera scenes and with the English translation of Lohengrin.
"Two Sisters from Boston," the only period-piece Melchior made, is the most structurally coherent of his films. It also contains his shortest role. He occasionally sang "My Country" (Liszt arranged by Charles Previn) as part of his lighter concert repertoire. Melchior liked working with Durante in this film and his next, This Time For Keeps, calling the entertainer "the most delightful comedian, [and] one of the finest men I have ever known" (quoted in Nually, p. 186).
Time for Keeps, MGM, 1947
(Click on the above link for the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) entry for "This Time for Keeps")
Produced by Joe Pasternak; Directed by Richard Thorpe
|Left: Lauritz Melchior prepares
himself to sing "Easy To Love" backed by Xavier Cugat and his band
Right: Lauritz Melchior with Jimmy Durante
A famous Danish opera singer named Richard Herald (Lauritz Melchior) is having trouble with his twenty-something son, returning GI Dick Johnson (Johnnie Johnston). Herald wants his son to become an opera singer and enter into an "old world" arranged marriage. Dick wants to be a pop singer and has his eye on swimmer Leonora Cambaretti (Esther Williams), who performs water ballets with entertainer Ferdi Farro (Jimmy Durante)
After an opera performance ending in Herald's singing of "Agnus Dei," Herald takes his son back to their mansion, where father & son sing "The Danish Children's Song" (in Danish). Antagonisms heat up again when Dick defiantly follows his father's rehearsal-stage singing of "M'Appari" (from Martha) with his own "swing" version of that aria, and continues to date Leonora.
Leonora, devastated upon hearing of her boyfriend's engagement to the bride of his father's choice, runs off to her grandmother's (Dame May Whitty) home on Mackinaw Island in Michigan. Dick follows Leonora to Mackinaw; and Herald follows his son.
Leonora's grandmother convinces Herald to accept "new world ways" and let the young people have their way. Herald, at the grandmother's urging, gives his blessing to the Cambaretti-Johnson union and his son's pop music career by blending "La Donna e Mobile" into Cole Porter's "Easy to Love," (because it's Dick and Leonora's 'song') backed by Xavier Cugat and his band.
Herbert Graf, the Metropolitan Opera's German-born stage director, hopeful opera populist, criticized Joe Pasternak's approach to opera popularization after working in Hollywood on Melchior's "Ora Per Sempre Addio" scene from Otello in This Time for Keeps:
"Joseph Pasternak...has employed opera singers and opera excerpts regularly...but he has made sure that they remained incidental to a storyline of Hollywood's own devising...the result has little connection with opera....[for the stage performance of Otello] we carefully imitated an authentic operatic set and did our best to arrange the action so that Melchior's fine work could be photographed to advantage from the front of the stage....it was [only] the side-wing shots which served the main purpose of the script....consequently...the movie audience saw only those... [shots from backstage offering] visual disillusion..." (Graf, Opera for the People, 216-217).
Luxury Liner, MGM, 1948
(Click on the above link for the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) entry for "Luxury Liner")
Produced by Joe Pasternak; Directed by Richard Whorf
Left: Sheet Music
for "Spring Came Back to Vienna," like many of the songs from Melchior's
films it became a part of his concert repertoire.
Right: Lauritz Melchior & Jane Powell sing & waltz as Xavier Cugat leads his orchestra
American teenager Polly Bradford (Jane Powell) is an aspiring opera singer. One day, Polly persuades her father Jeremy (George Brent), the captain of an ocean liner, to take her to see the famous Danish tenor Olaf Eriksen (Lauritz Melchior) in Aida. She raves about his duet with Zita Romanka (Marina Koshetz). Soon after, all principals board the ocean liner, including Polly as a quickly-discovered stowaway. Polly sets her sights on finding a way to persuade the great Eriksen to audition her.
Eriksen does a fair amount of singing himself on the liner, often backed by Xavier Cugat and his band: "Torna i Sorriento;" "Helan Går" with The Pied Pipers [a singing group]. He sings the "Spring Song" from "Walküre" to a delighted cleaning lady of mature age.
Powell succeeds in getting
Eriksen's attention, and
will sing a duet with Melchior at the close of the movie called "Spring Came Back to Vienna,"
a light waltz allusive to the postwar rebuilding of Europe.
Jane Powell recalled Melchior as "a Wagnerian singer with a twinkle in his eye" in her 1988 memoirs, The Girl Next Door and How She Grew (p. 111-112).
Produced by Irving Asher; Directed by Norman Taurog ("Thrill of a Romance", "This Time for Keeps")
(Click on the above link for the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) entry for "The Stars are Singing")
The sudden appearance of teenager Katri
Walenska (Anna Maria Alberghetti) at the door of his New York City apartment
disrupts the quiet, bittersweet retirement of Polish-American opera singer Jan
Poldi (Lauritz Melchior). A defector from Communist Poland, Katri is hoping to
become an American citizen. The daughter of famous Polish opera singers, she is
also an aspiring operatic soprano. She begs Poldi to play his "old"
recording of "Because" for her and sing along.
The girl is in trouble. INS wants to deport the illegal immigrant. Poldi and his young vaudevillian upstairs neighbors, including showbiz hopeful Terry Brennan (Rosemary Clooney) rush to hide Katri from the Feds.
Poldi revisits the opera house of his triumphs on Katri's behalf, only to be reminded that he no longer has any standing at the theater. Near tears, he wanders around the theater's darkened backstage. He remembers portraying Canio. "Vesti la Giubba" plays in voiceover.
Young Terry's efforts to help Katri prove more successful than Poldi's. Interrupting her own career-building, she sends anonymous records of the soprano singing "Una voce poco fa" to DJs around the country. Under an assumed name, Katri proves a sensation on a television variety show, but her true identity is quickly exposed.
After legal wrangling in Washington, immigration authorities decide to allow the young Polish refugee to stay in America and become an American. The new American-to-be repeats her TV triumph, singing Livingston & Evans' "My Heart is Home/(...and home is in my heart)" joined on the stage by her countryman Poldi.
This movie, a joint vehicle for Rosemary Clooney and Anna Maria Alberghetti, failed to arouse the public's interest. The acoustics of the pop-music recording studio used to record the entire soundtrack wreaked havoc on the sound of both Melchior's and Alberghetti's voices. By contrast, Clooney's singing of her hit, "Come on to my house" is a highlight of the film.
"The Stars are Singing" attempts the 'Pasternakian' plea in favor of eager assimilation of European high culture into American popular culture. Instead, the more complicated lives of European expatriates represented by Melchior's and Alberghetti's characters remain part of a separate world, outsiders in the giddy 1950's American pop culture represented by Clooney's character. Nowhere is the divide more apparent than in the filmmakers' failure to record the operatic voices in an appropriate studio.
When the movie proved unsuccessful at
attracting new patrons to his concert tours, Melchior
made The Stars are Singing his final appearance in motion pictures.
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|Last Updated June 29, 2006|