Priscilla, Queen of the Desert meets La Traviata
After a drunken night at a pub in Broken Hill, the three drag artists – Mitzi (Hugo Weaving), Felicia (Guy Pearce) and Bernadette (Terence Stamp) – awake to find their bus defaced with a homophobic slogan. They leave the city depressed and upset, but Felicia cheers the day by practising her operatic lip-syncing on the roof of Priscilla, their bus.
This clip from The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliott, 1994) features three very different forms of music, beginning with choral music, then Trudy Richards' jazzy rendition of 'Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man' (from the musical Show Boat, 1927) – and, finally, opera by the great Italian composer Verdi.
Perhaps one of the most recognised moments of the film (and indeed Australian cinema more generally) is the final part of the clip featuring Felicia in drag, miming to Joan Carden's performance of 'Sempre libera (Free Forever)' from Act I of Verdi's La Traviata (1853) – all while standing on top of a bus driving through the Australian desert.
This humorous sequence embodies the world of opera, and particularly the upper reaches of the soprano voice, as excess and as exhilarating performance. But it also functions beyond aesthetic embellishment.
La Traviata connects – ironically and symbolically – to the story at hand. The opera centres on a courtesan loved for her body and her passion for life – a courtesan who was destined to die alone, outside the safety of mainstream society at the time.
The music of La Traviata could reflect the marginalised status of the central characters – and offers a subtle reminder of the homophobic attack in the Broken Hill scene at the start of the clip.
Content warning: this clip contains homophobic language.