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O selvagem da opera.

On the third page of his fictionalized biography of Antonio Carlos Gomes, Rubem Fonseca advises the reader that he has produced a screenplay ("Isto e um filme") for a film about the nineteenth-century composer of O guarani, Fosca, Salvator Rosa, Maria Tudor, Lo Schiavo, and other operas, almost totally forgotten today. Fonseca, amply experienced both as a writer of fiction and as a screenwriter, has given us a work that straddles three genres without satisfying the formal or esthetic requirements of any. O selvagem da opera is not sufficiently rigorous or insightful to qualify as a good biography, although Fonseca has researched his subject extensively. Neither is it structured, developed, and crafted in a manner consistent with good fiction. And it is so detailed and cumbersome that it would take a six-hour epic in the manner of Bondarchuk's War and Peace to accommodate the extensive cast of characters and the profusely episodic plot.

Fonseca presents us with a series of short scenes that document Gomes's life in a chronological and somewhat monotonous manner. These episodes are interspersed with digressions about the differences between film and fiction and an occasional anecdote about the development of opera in nineteenth-century Milan. Famous composers such as Wagner and Puccini make cameo appearances, as do various prima donnas and patrons of the arts.

We follow Gomes to Milan, where he is sent on scholarship by Pedro II, the Emperor of Brazil; through his marriage to Adelina Peri, the death of three of his children, his affairs with various prima donnas (Hariclee Darclee and Diana Raggi) and countesses; to his few artistic triumphs and copious economic struggles and his generally strained relations with colleagues, librettists, and publishers. The structure (?) of the screenplay reminds us of the loose concatenation of episodes typical of a sixteenth-century picaresque novel; there is little plot cohesion or character development. The author proffers an occasional platitude about the loneliness of the artist and the fickleness of fame, but there is nothing in the screenplay itself or in the juxtaposition and rendering of its numerous scenes that would convey the tragedy of Gomes's struggle, the uniqueness of his genius, or indeed the greatness of his art. Rather than being moved by Gomes's predicament, we are left wondering why Fonseca thinks the composer should be rescued from oblivion and presented to (inflicted on?) modern audiences.

Numerous film biographies of famous composers have been produced in the past with varying degrees of success, accuracy, and artistry: from the 1941 biography of Franz Schubert, Melody Master, through such lavish Hollywood productions of the fifties as The Great Waltz (Johann Strauss), A Song to Remember (Chopin), and A Song of Love (Schumann); to the more recent Amadeus (Mozart), All the Mornings in the World (Marais), and Immortal Beloved (Beethoven), to mention just a few. Aside from their achievements or failures as works of art, these films appeal to the public because they focus on the circumstances - accurate or not - that surround the creation of famous compositions known to music lovers through the ages. In presenting us with a screenplay for a film about a virtually unknown composer whose creations are almost totally unavailable, Fonseca depends for success solely on the artistry of the film and the complexity of his central character. These, alas, are not apparent in the present version of his screenplay.

Ana Maria Hernandez LaGuardia Community College
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Author:Hernandez, Ana Maria
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1996
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