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Special Projects

Grant Awarded to Preserve Rare Films
from the Archive of Recorded Sound

The National Film Preservation Foundation has awarded SULAIR a grant in the amount of $5,000 to preserve a selection of deteriorating films in the Bonelli Collection held by the Archive of Recorded Sound.

Richard Bonelli as Figaro in Rossini's "The Barber of Seville", 1932

The films were created by Mona Bonelli, wife of the eminent American baritone Richard Bonelli (1887-1980). Mona filmed her husband and some of the singers and conductors with whom he performed during the 1930s at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, recording performances from the wings, dress rehearsals from the auditorium, as well as the playful backstage activities of the actors. There are similar films in the collection made at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Hollywood Bowl.

Mona Bonelli, the filmmaker, reveals herself behind her camera

This film record of the opera scene in the United States, albeit silent, is apparently unique. This is the only known moving image documentation of San Francisco's first offerings at the War Memorial Opera House, which opened in 1932. The Bonelli films as a whole offer a new look at costuming, staging, and performance styles during a seminal period in the maturing of American opera, a period which is otherwise predominantly represented in visual form by still photographs and illustrations.

Staff from the Media Preservation Unit coordinated the project, working closely with a lab in Hollywood, Calif. which carried out the painstaking work of preserving the brittle, shrunken film. The grant funding supported the production of new film negatives and prints as well as DVD and VHS access copies. The fragile original films are now stored in sub-zero temperatures in order to retard further deterioration.

Last modified: November 3, 2006
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