Friday, November 25, 2011

Matt Rees's "Mozart's Last Aria"

Matt Rees is an award-winning crime novelist and foreign correspondent. He is the author of the internationally acclaimed Omar Yussef crime series, including The Collaborator of Bethlehem. He is also the author of Cain’s Field, a nonfiction account of Israeli and Palestinian society. Rees lives in Jerusalem.

Here he shares some suggestions about who should play the lead in an adaptation of his new novel, Mozart's Last Aria:
American actresses ought to be climbing over each other to option the film rights for Mozart's Last Aria. Why? Because the main character is a woman just over forty years old.

It’s well-known that all but a few actresses disappear from lead billing by the time they hit that age. Men, by contrast, can still be playing action heroes and romantic leads when they’re already in adult diapers.

Nannerl Mozart, the sister of the great composer, was a child prodigy at the piano, just like Wolfgang. But in her teens she was left at home by their ambitious father, while Wolfgang went to Italy to compose operas. After that, Nannerl was married off – eventually, at age 32, which was old maid territory in the late eighteenth century – and lived in a remote mountain village with her husband, a boring tax official.

In Mozart's Last Aria, she learns of her brother’s death and suspects foul play. (Mozart himself really did tell his wife that he was being poisoned and six weeks later he was dead.) She travels to Vienna to find out the truth. In the imperial capital, she uncovers a plot involving underground Masonic lodges, espionage, and a secret hidden in the libretto of Wolfgang’s last great opera, The Magic Flute.

As I wrote the novel, I was able to keep in mind the image of Nannerl, painted at about the age at which I portray her. She looked remarkably like Wolfgang, had Wolfgang been a cross-dresser. I used some traditional Zulu techniques (called “family constellations”) to connect with the energy field of the real Nannerl (sounds “New Agey” but it’s a technique I find very useful as a writer.)

Still, I had some of my favorite actresses in mind for the qualities I think they’d be able to embody in a movie version of Mozart's Last Aria.

For Nannerl, I imagined both Juliette Binoche and Julia Roberts for the quality of restrained humor they’ve both been able to bring to roles. Nannerl must be a quiet woman who has spent years far away from the limelight, a woman accustomed to disappointment after her brother was favored over her. Both Juliette and Julia would be able to convey the intelligence of Nannerl that survived those years of disappointment. That’s important because in the course of the novel she learns things which enable her to come to a new understanding of her brother – and herself. It also takes an actress who can embody the vulnerability of a woman in that era.

Incidentally, for the blind piano virtuoso Maria Theresia von Paradies, who has a significant role in the book, I had in mind the gorgeous B√©atrice Dalle. Paradies had done what Nannerl was unable to do – made a career as a performer, despite being a woman. Her blindness, I believe, made her disregard a great many of the restrictions of the day and gave her a belief in her talent that someone like Nannerl would’ve suppressed.

I’ve been a Dalle fan since I saw her doing the nasty in her first movie Betty Blue, and despite the fact that she’s clearly a bit nuts (or that she just doesn't care what anyone thinks of her) I’ve continued to enjoy her movies. Plus she was great as a blind girl in Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth. It’s time she reprised blindness.
Learn more about about the book and author at Matt Beynon Rees' website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue