Opera is intrinsic to Woody Allen's Match Point, his first film set in London, in the way jazz so often is to Allen's New York-based oeuvre. The film's central male characters bond over a passion for the art form, and excerpts from operatic recordings old and new -- some great, some less so (more on that later) -- provide the film's only music. But, more importantly, in Allen's own words: "The story [itself] is operatic; it deals with the kinds of things that opera is so often about: love and lust, passion and jealousy, betrayal and tragedy...and, of course, the confluence of fate and luck."
Based on this soundtrack album, there is good reason to believe Allen was sincere in his attempt to create a meaningful relationship between music and drama, and not riding the generic emotional coattails of operatic music in the way television advertisers and lesser filmmakers so often have. Almost none of the well-worn "hits" that tend to crop up on mercenary collections are to be found here, and the selections do indeed comment on the themes mentioned above: Verdi's "Caro nome" ("Beloved Name," from Rigoletto) and "Un di, felice" ("One Happy Day," from La traviata) on the joyful discovery of love; Verdi's "Desdemona rea, si, per ciel" (from Otello) on betrayal of both romantic love and friendship; and Donizetti's "Una furtive lagrima" ("A furtive tear," from L'elisir d'amore) on grief and loss. Even if the exact context of these excerpts wouldn't fit Allen's narrative, there is at least an expressive affinity between the two.
The most interesting aspect of the album, however (and one most likely to alienate soundtrack buyers not used to such things), is the choice of Enrico Caruso -- the world's first blockbuster recording artist -- as the marquee singer on the collection. His recordings represent five of the nine tracks on the album, the rest coming from modern recordings licensed from the budget Naxos label. Even in the best remastered editions, Caruso's recordings suffer noticeably from the shortcomings of early acoustic technology, and they sound foreign -- almost alien -- to ears accustomed to the luxury of digital sound. But those who invest the few minutes necessary to refocus their expectations will soon come to understand why Caruso's recordings, some of which were nearing a century in age at the time this album was released, have never been out of print: even diluted, distorted, and filtered by inadequate technology that captured, at best, a fraction of his talents, Caruso was a singer of unparalleled emotional resonance. His singing is transfixing, arresting, and stirring in ways that are impossible to quantify or fully explain. And these -- these fleeting, undefinable, illogical responses that can only clumsily be called "passion" -- are at the heart of Match Point, a story of desire winning out over goodness, safety, and love. We often choose the hurtful over the mundane, the cruel over the comforting, the deeply selfish over the "right thing." Here, with Caruso's old, world-weary, scratchy recordings, so full of resonance, side by side with pleasant, inoffensive, occasionally even excellent (Alida Ferrarini's "Caro nome" in particular) modern recordings that rarely stir the heart, one can experience that very same illogical pull toward the compelling and inexplicable.