Wisconsin State Journal, By Russell Evansen
A yellow taxi makes its way through a brilliant snow, out into the farm country of Wisconsin.
Out steps a woman in a fur coat, who makes her way through the snowy field to a farm house, luxurious coat contrasting with the simplicity of the scene.
In this scene from the Wisconsin-made film “Claire’s Italian Opera.” Audiences experience the homecoming of an American opera stay in Italy. After many years and a successful career abroad, the opera singer, reaching middle age, has decided to return home. Home, in the film, “Claire’s Italian Opera,” is Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Home, for actress Jinx Davis, who plays the opera singer, is Waterloo Wisconsin, where she now operates the Mode Theater.
For Davis, as for Madison filmmaker, Phyllis Berg-Pigorsch, a year and a half’s work came to an end last Thursday night, as cast and crew members of “Claire’s Italian Opera” follows a 45-year old Wisconsin printmaker to Italy, seeking to rediscover a man she had a passionate affair with 25 years ago.
Providing counterpoint and perspective to the quiet retrospective as Claire seeks her former self in Italy, Davis’s character realizes her opera career has run it’s course and decides to return to Wisconsin.
“I do one opera scene where she’s performing an aria from Tosca and she misses a not. The audience responds by pelting her with paper wads,” Jinx said—a clear sign the performer’s rising start has turned downward.
Production for the movie took place in Wisconsin and in Italy, though Davis and most of the 50-character cast only took part in scenes shot in Wisconsin.
“Filming took place throughout a 50-mile radius, at L’Etoile in Madison, in a lot of private homes in the area, Jameson House in Janesville and in several farmhouses,” Davis said. “A lot of it took place in cold blizzard conditions last winter…we’d have to wait to make the scene until the conditions were just right.”
“Claire’s Italian Opera” marks Davis’s first feature-length film, but she’d played in many short and commercial film projects, “to pay the rent.”
Berg-Pigorsch is an award winning documentary writer, producer and director who has successfully made the leap to dramatic features. “Claire’s Italian Opera”–her second feature film–was shot on location around Dane County, as well as Italy. It stars a cast of Midwestern actors who cut their teeth on the stages of Milwaukee, Chicago and Spring Green’s American Players Theatre.
While Madison residents go gaga over the recent stopover of Keanu Reeves and the rest of the Hollywood gang, dedicated but relatively unknown filmmakers like Berg-Pigorsch quietly go about the business of making independent films right here in Wisconsin.
Berg-Pigorsch has directed one other feature. “The Islander”, filmed in Door County, and 16 documentaries, most of those for PBS, including “The Farm Woman: A century of Experience” and “The Germans”.