A Star Fell from Heaven

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(Ein Stern fällt vom Himmel)

Schmidt. Elisir + songs. (1936). In German, with new, non-optional English subtitles. 91m. B&W. The DVD is the format Region 0 (all regions).

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The plot sure isn’t Goethe, but it is about two tenors: Tenor 1 damages his voice by drinking cologne, thinking it cognac. Tenor 2 has a problem singing while people are sucking lemons. Every time he goes to an audition, somebody just happens to be lemon sucking. He agrees to sing in place of Tenor 1, who lip-synchs. (By coincidence, the two tenors sound identical!) Tenor 2’s girlfriend is upset by the fraud. So are his friends, who disrupt a performance. All ends happily when Tenor 1 recovers his voice, admits the deceit and makes a star of Tenor 2. Connoisseurs of Busby Berkeley take note: This film has a production number to rival the master’s, but Berkeley was never so exquisitely wacky. The plot occasions much singing of songs, a trill and many high notes.

Until William Matteuzzi, no Italian tenor on records equaled Joseph Schmidt’s comfortable top notes, heard to great effect here. His voice is uncommonly warm and full-bodied in this film. Notice how, in “Una furtiva lagrima,” Schmidt’s mouth goes slightly lopsided when he makes a crescendo on the syllable “spir” in the word “sospir.” Notice too how the tip of his tongue sometimes rises on top notes, in particular. Many voice teachers view both traits as faults, yet they are common. With other singers, raised tongues seem to have no impact on tone quality. But you hear Schmidt’s tone deteriorate as you see his tongue go up, at the end of the interpolated B-flat at the close of “Una furtiva lagrima,” for example. (Domingo’s tongue does the same thing as Schmidt’s, apparently without affecting the tone. See BCS Video #676, Otello, or BCS Video or DVD #452, Chénier). The print is glorious.
— Stefan Zucker

The Nazis’ Seizure of A Star Fell From Heaven