Viewpoint: The Beauty of Two Women
Loren in Two Women
© Embassy Pictures/Pierluigi Praturlon, photographer/Photofest 2015
This month, San Francisco Opera presents the world premiere of Two Women (La Ciociara), an opera inspired by Alberto Moravia’s 1957 novel. Moravia created a work of fiction based on one of the most horrific episodes in twentieth-century Italian history. In 1944, after the Allies finally captured Monte Cassino — a site then best-known for its sixth-century abbey, which was destroyed by Allied bombing — thousands of women and girls in the surrounding Central Italian region of Ciociara were victims of sexual violence and rape by Allied soldiers. Because most of these soldiers were Moroccan colonial troops of the French Expeditionary Corps, these crimes against Italian women are referred to as Le Marocchinate (the Moroccans’ deeds).
Moravia’s novel was adapted as a film in 1960 by Vittorio De Sica (1901–74), who was a seminal figure in the neorealist movement that transformed moviemaking in Italy in the years immediately following World War II. The revolutionary films made by De Sica and other directors at work in Italy following the fall of Mussolini’s government were concerned with life among the working class; often they were filmed on location in the streets and used nonprofessional actors. The neorealist filmmakers were very much admired in the U.S.; De Sica’s Sciuscà (Shoeshine, 1946) was the first movie given a special Oscar for foreign film, an honor also accorded his Ladri di Biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, 1948). The Italian movies of the mid-twentieth century were very much connected in spirit to the verismo movement of the late nineteenth century, which exercised a profound influence on Italian literature, theater and opera by telling the stories of common men and women.
At one time, a Hollywood film of Two Women was planned as a vehicle for the incomparable Anna Magnani (1908–73), tempestuous star of Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City and an Oscar-winner for The Rose Tattoo. Magnani, then in her fifties, would have played the central character, Cesira, under the direction of George Cukor, who directed her in Wild Is the Wind. Accounts vary as to why that film never happened; most center on Magnani’s reported reluctance to share the project with Sophia Loren, the twenty-five-year-old beauty who was proposed for the role of Rosetta, Cesira’s innocent daughter. When plans for a Hollywood movie of Two Women were abandoned, Loren, whose international star was on the rise thanks to a string of successful Hollywood films, agreed to play the unglamorous role of Cesira in the De Sica production. De Sica cast Italian–American child actress Eleonora Brown, then twelve years old, as Rosetta.
De Sica’s filmestablished Loren as a superstar. For her performance as Cesira, Loren won the 1961 Academy Award for Best Actress, becoming the first artist to win an Oscar for a performance given in a language other than English. On the night of the Oscars, however, Loren’s award was accepted on her behalf by actress Greer Garson. Loren, who later said she was “too terrified” to attend the ceremony, was at home in Italy — asleep.
F. PAUL DRISCOLL
The opinions expressed in OPERA NEWS do not necessarily represent the views of The Metropolitan Opera Guild or The Metropolitan Opera.
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