The soft tones of an Italian opera permeate the air as the camera scans a panoramic view of Florence and the Ponte Vecchio. Later transitioning displays an outdoor stage, lit up in the night. People painted in white walk across the stage in Grecian costumes in front of flowing sheer cloths that reveal the façade of a building beyond. The audience and orchestra are in an open courtyard that is lit with flickering torches displaying the atmospheric green grass and stone brick building. As the camera enters the audience it rests first on a couple, man and wife, and a lone man across the aisle. The two men share a challenging look, but soon return their attention to the opera. The camera returns to the actors as they softly finish their duet.
This beautiful sequence is in fact a scene from the 2001 film Hannibal, starring Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore and Giancarlo Giannini. The opera, “Vide Cor Meum”, was composed specifically for the film by Patrick Cassidy and was performed by Danielle de Niese, Bruno Lazzaretti, and the Lyndhurst Orchestra. The Liberetto was based on a sonnet from Dante’s “La Vita Nuova” which follows the Florentine poet and his beloved Beatrice.
The opera scene was filmed on the grounds of Santa Croce in the courtyard in front the Pazzi Chapel. It demonstrates the dedication of the film writers and director in composing a somewhat historically insightful scene. The scene connects character background stories with both history and contemporary use of Santa Croce facilities.
An attendee of the opera is Inspector Renaldo Pazzi, played by Giancarlo Giannini, who is supposed to be a descendant of the famed Pazzi family. The Pazzi commissioned the chapel in 1429 to be built by architect Filippo Brunelleschi. However, the Pazzi were never able to properly use the space following the attempted assassination of Lorenzo and Giuliano Medici (only Guiliano was killed) by the Jacopo and Francesco Pazzi. Their loss of the chapel was a consequence for their actions against the other Florentine family. The chapel was used as a chapter house for the Franciscan Friars at Santa Croce. Therefore, as the Inspector Pazzi attends the opera in Santa Croce he is reminded of his family’s once fortune and ruin. As part of the plot, Inspector Pazzi was already being constantly reminded of his family history by Hannibal Lector who provokes distress for the policeman.
With the presence of the opera the space of the Pazzi chapel façade and Santa Croce courtyard were visually transformed for the filming of the scene. Besides the obvious placement of chairs and presence of an orchestra on the church’s side porch, the filmmakers constructed stage in front of the façade and hung sheer sheets to separate the space. Rather than fully focusing on the Chapel exterior or interior, the main light of the scene is contained in the porch, in between the chapel doorway and exterior columns. This therefore highlights not the architectural genius of Brunelleschi, but instead the work of architect Guiliano da Maiano, as Brunelleschi died before completing the chapel front. The scene also lights up the glazed terracotta round of St. Andrews made by Luca della Robbia which is placed above the portal entrance into the chapel.
Music is still an integral part of contemporary Santa Croce with the church organ being played on Sundays and occasional performances in the church and on its grounds. The Pazzi Chapel actually has fantastic acoustics.
While the arching story of Hannibal does not always focus on historical events, choosing instead to follow the grisly life of a cannibal and his enemies, it does have hidden moments of Florentine beauty. The scene of the opera demonstrates a beautiful transformation and use of space for the Pazzi Chapel in Santa Croce.
Guest Blogger Eileen Donovan is a film enthusiast and student of Art History at Providence College who just finished her semester at Fairfield University in Florence.