Magazine: OPERA NEWS, JULY 1997
Poussieres d'Amour (Love's Debris) Film by Werner Schroeter, 122 m

In 1964, then a teen, German film and opera director Werner Schroeter was captivated by a recording of Anita Cerquetti singing "Casta Diva." His new film, Poussieres d'Amour, while often arch and eccentric when it isn't dealing with Cerquetti, is worth seeking out for anyone interested in the mysteries of vocal expression. To guide us through his operatic fantasies, Schroeter attempts to answer the French philosopher Roland Barthes' question "How do singers find their emotions in their voices?" Inviting a number of contemporary singers -- including Katherine and Kristine Ciesinski, Laurence Dale, Jenny Drivala, Gail Gilmore and Sergei Latin, plus the photogenic pianist Elizabeth Cooper -to France's thirteenth-century abbey of Royaumont,

Schroeter conducts a freeform seminar in which the artists not only sing arias and duets in full costume but also discuss love, death and the voice.
This precious attitudinizing works with the younger artists -- they are game even for Schroeter's questionable homoerotic high jinks -- but two elder divas, Martha Modl and Rita Gorr, are too coolly dignified for this approach. Both sing, splendidly, the Gretry aria from Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades, but the down-to-earth Modl makes mincemeat of the pretentious grilling she receives about singing. Laughing uproariously in the interlocutor's face, Modl claims she could hardly teach singing when she hasn't a clue how she does it herself. Schroeter's film does not really come into focus until Cerquetti appears. They share an awkward embrace, and he is shown resting his head in her lap and kneeling at her feet during a playback of "Vissi d'arte." Cerquetti accepts this extravagant homage with kittenish irony. A half-hour documentary focusing directly on Cerquetti would have made all of Schroeter's points about the triumph of music over age, disappointment and pain. Questioned about the gossip that attended her abrupt retirement in 1961, Cerquetti, a large, handsome woman with a Roman nose and tortured eyes, says, "In life there isn't only singing." She barely sings in this film, yet she is more powerfully "expressive" than any of the others. Schroeter plays her recording of "Casta Diva" and focuses his camera on her face; the scene proves that expression exists not in how you sing but in who you are. For that moment alone, Poussieres d'Amour is magnificently operatic.
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