It is fitting that American opera diva Renée Fleming was asked to be the singing voice for Julianne Moore in the new movie Bel Canto.

Although novelist Ann Patchett based the character of Roxane Coss on an opera-singing friend, she would play Fleming’s recordings of opera while she was writing.

“I would put on a particular aria and set it to repeat, like, 20 times,” Patchett told an interviewer earlier this fall.

The sound would help her find the words to depict the emotions the characters might feel in hearing the music.

Although she is the right age and voice, and certainly has the looks and charisma, Fleming believes that casting Moore in the role was the right thing to do.

“Having Julianne Moore on the project gives it a whole new life and a new focus,” the soprano says.

“It also gives it authenticity, not just because of her brilliance as an actress but her stardom.”

Fleming recorded the soundtrack in January. Moore was in the studio with her.

Only one aria, the “Song to the Moon” from Antonin Dvorak’s opera Rusalka, uses an older recording, because it features full orchestra instead of just piano.

Moore “sat literally five feet in front of me when I recorded, so that she could watch me and try to absorb what it is we do in producing sound,” Fleming recalls.

“I think she looks great in the film. I think she got the piece about posture and alignment. There are so many pieces.” Much of that vocal-acting finesse can be attributed to Fleming’s coach and piano accompanist Gerald Martin Moore.

The singer is awed by how well Julianne Moore lip-synced all the foreign languages in the opera arias.

“Right there I was so impressed with her work ethic and dedication and the time that it was taking her to even approximate what these languages look like when sung,” she says.

Asked if she has favourite older movies featuring opera stars, Fleming mentions two.

The first is Amadeus, the 1984 movie based on Peter Schafer’s fictionalized life of Mozart. It won an Oscar for Best Picture.

The second is Diva, a cult-favourite French film from 1981 that starred soprano Wilhelmina Fernandez.

If I could nominate one worth digging up, it would be The Music Teacher, a French movie from 1989 that starred bass-baritone José van Dam. It won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

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