Recently I saw Greta Garbo in The Mysterious Lady, a silent movie from 1928. Not a great movie, but I could watch Garbo silently read the Berlin phonebook. The problem with the movie was the modern-day musical accompaniment, which seemed to have been intended for a different movie altogether. The aria Vissi d’arte from Tosca plays a big role in The Mysterious Lady: we first see Garbo at the opera listening intently to it; later we see her supposedly singing it herself a couple of times (with Conrad Nagel supposedly playing the accompaniment). But the score never even gestures towards the aria, or Puccini, or even opera. Instead, we’re forced to listen to some bland genre-free movie music. What’s up with that?
Luckily YouTube can cure anyone’s Vissi d’arte deficiency. Here is Maria Callas, proving why grand opera is superior to silent movies any day:
The transcendent, ineffable greatness of YouTube also provides us with The Mysterious Lady done the right way, with the operatic music synched to the action of the movie. Here is Garbo, entranced by the opera, simultaneously entrancing Nagel: