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Subject: Re: Opera in Films
From: "G. Paul Padillo" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:G. Paul Padillo
Date:Fri, 21 Jul 2017 11:53:50 -0400
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Then there is the strange case of Italian shock/horror movie maestro, Dario Argento's film 
"Opera," his (until then) most expensive budgeted film.  

"Opera" centers around a production of Verdi’s "Macbeth" produced by a director who 
moved from horror films to opera (as Argento nearly did), using a script which ranges from 
brilliant to inane all nearly within the space of a film cell or two.  Filled with both more 
symbolism and red herrings than you can shake the proverbial stick at, it is a deeply 
disturbing film for non-horror fans.  

As the soprano cast Lady Macbeth is a megalomaniacal diva who, during the final dress 
rehearsal, throws a tantrum on a stage that is a bloody battlefield, littered with debris, a 
crashed plane with propeller still spinning, and dozens of enormous ravens flying ominously 
around the stage.  We never “see” Lady during this scene, merely hear her ranting at the 
director, stopping the rehearsal with the following speech:

Director:  "Do you have a problem."

Diva:  Yes. You.  This isn't one of your crummy movies it’s Verdi’s Macbeth.  Birds on stage, 
back projections, laser beams . . . what is this an opera house or an amusement park?  I 
have to sing!  How can I do that on a stage with a raven who hates me?  It never takes its 
beady eyes off of me . . . it shrieks, whistles, flaps it's wings . . . that raven is deliberately 
destroying my performance!  Birds belong with other birds NOT in the opera house singing 
Macbeth!:

I couldn’t help but wonder how many singers today would love to make a similar speech!  

Argento wanted to use La Scala, but had to settle for Parma to shoot this operatic tale of 
terror.  

Spoilers ahead:

When the diva walks out of the rehearsal, she is immediately struck by a car and 
incapacitated.  We then meet Betty, a 21 year old soprano and most unlikely understudy of 
Betty's apartment has all sorts of fun memorabilia, including a framed portrait of Callas.  

Continuity goes out the window.  At one point we see Betty insert a cassette into her stereo, 
clearly marked “Preludes 1-4 . . . Claudio Abbado, Conductor – Philips 1987).  What we 
hear, however, is Callas as Lady Macbeth, as the Opera House Manager states, “Ah, I see 
you're listening to Brikovski's recording of Macbeth . . . were you aware that was 
taped from our production here in 1970?”   WTF?

Soon we witness an entourage of opera house management trying to rouse the seemingly 
clinically depressed young soprano’s blood pressure and get her excited about her opera 
debut.  “But I’m all wrong for Lady Macbeth . . . I’m the wrong voice type, it’s too big a role 
and I’m far too young.”  

“Foolishness!" She's told.  "Verdi’s first Lady Macbeth was barely 16 or 17 years old at the 
first performance.  That’s how he wanted it.”  

Um. . . 

In a DVD “extra” interview, Argento talks about how they looked all over Italy for a young 
actress, because Verdi used a 17 year old soprano and that’s how the role is supposed to be 
sung.  We know, of course, the first Lady was,  Marianna Barbieri-Nini who was just shy of 
her 30th birthday – young, but long past 17.  

During the performance Betty lip synchs to Elizabeth Norberg Schulz singing Lady.  

There is, this being Argento, a dangerous, unseen, maniac stalking the young soprano, 
who goes on a killing spree in the house on opening night.  This part of the film is played up 
nicely in classic Giallo style, e.g., you see shadows, a mask, gloves, hear footsteps, etc., but 
never actually see him . . . or maybe it's a her?  

There is some fun name dropping in the then-current Italian operatic-world, for example 
Cecilia Gasdia and Mirella Freni’s names pop up during conversations.

The soundtrack features a good bit of Callas, including extensive excerpts from her original 
"Traviata" for Fonit Cetra, with, for good measure, Freni singing "Un bel di."  

In the extra interview, Argento talks about why he wanted to make this film.  He had been 
approached to direct opera in Italy – beginning with Rigoletto done in a vampire-film style (I 
think it could work!)  But his ideas were immediately rejected and he cancelled the project 
rather than try to do a staging “more traditional.”  Now he says he has no desire to ever 
direct an opera:  

 “My creativity would be limited by a stage – you cannot do what I want to do on a stage.  
Plus I have no patience to try to teach opera singers to act or move.  It’s fact, they don’t 
know how to act or move. . . . they’re like  figures of marble or wood. . . ”  

Oh, C’mon Dario . . . when’s the last time you’ve been the opera, ol’ boy?

He states how he IS fascinated by all of the fetishism surrounding the world of opera, which 
he sees as being even stronger than that of horror cinema fans.  So do I.


p.

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