In the Shadow of the Stars: The Lives of Singers

Institute History

  • 1991 Sundance Film Festival


In the Shadow of the Stars, like A Chorus Line, goes behind the scenes, discovering among the choristers of the San Francisco Opera, singers who aspire to be soloists and dream of being stars. The San Francisco Opera is one of the world's finest, yet its members are rarely noted as they portray masses of peasants, ladies-in-waiting, soldiers and slaves. Their lives and the plots of grand opera—where ambitions are as magnified as the voices—merge in a film where the musical drama unfolds through the eyes of the choristers rather than the soloists. For once, the magnificent choral passages of Verdi, Wagner and Puccini take precedence over their arias and duets.

In telling the choristers' stories, Stars also examines the circumstances that determine who becomes a star and who remains in the background. The film opens on the "Patria Oppressa" chorus from Verdi's Macbeth as the choristers move from the deep shadows of a bare stage into the light. From this mass of singers come the individual stories: a tenor who grew up in the slums of the Bronx and was saved from madness by his music; a soprano whose life is a like a tragicomic opera plot; a mezzo who wishes she were a soprano; a black baritone from rural North Carolina who has come to love opera; a truck driver, the son of a truck-driving opera lover, who practices his arias while driving his semi; a former theatre actor who started singing bass, switched to first tenor and by this point has sung all four male parts from eight operas—Verdi's Macbeth, Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, Puccini's La Boheme, Wagner's The Flying Dutchman and Die Meistersinger, Meyerbeer's L'Africaine and Ponchielli's La Gioconda, To parallel and comment on individual stories, the film intriguingly explores the blurred boundary between private lives and stage spectacles. In the Shadow of the Stars is a rare and privileged look into the grand world of opera.

— Robert Hawk

Screening Details

As you use our Online Archives, please understand that the information presented from Festivals, Labs, and other activities is taken directly from official publications from each year. While this information is limited and doesn't necessarily represent the full list of participants (e.g. actors and crew), it is the list given to us by the main film/play/project contact at the time, based on the space restrictions of our publications. Each entry in the Online Archives is meant as a historical record of a particular film, play, or project at the time of its involvement with Sundance Institute. For this reason, we can only amend an entry if a name is misspelled, or if the entry does not correctly reflect the original publication. If you have questions or comments, please email [email protected]