Italian neorealism is conventionally read as the authoritative cinematic chronicle of Italy’s experience of World War II and the Resistance, through canonical films such as Rossellini’s Roma città aperta (Rome, Open City, 1945). It is important, however, to restore a full picture of the array of genres which narrated and refracted the Resistance experience in the post-war period. To this end, this article looks at a key genre which has been overlooked by scholarship, the opera film or melodramma. In examining Avanti a lui tremava tutta Roma (Before Him All Rome Trembled, Gallone, 1946), the article considers Mary Wood’s contention (2005: 109) that in this period ‘realist cinematic conventions were insufficient for the maximum perception of the historical context’, and that the ‘affective charge’ of melodrama was essential for restoring this complexity. It assesses the appeal to the emotions produced by the film, and the ways in which this is constructed through the bodily and vocal performance of the opera divo, and questions the critical division between emotion (always viewed as excessive) and authenticity (seen in neorealism, the mode of seriousness) which has seen the opera film relegated to the margins of postwar Italian film history.