Opera (1987)

When Mara Czekova (uncredited), the star of an avant garde staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s operatic rendition of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, is hit by a car, her understudy, Betty (Cristina Marsillach), opens the production. Shortly thereafter, she is abducted and forced to watch as the opera’s crew is gruesomely murdered one by one.

    Tagline: obsession. murder. madness.

    Directing:
    • Dario Argento

    Writing:
    • Franco Ferrini
    • Dario Argento

Release Date: 1987-12-19

Dario Argento

Director/Writer/Producer/Narrator (Italian version) (voice, uncredited)

Ferdinando Caputo

Executive producer

Ronnie Taylor

Cinematography

Franco Fraticelli

Film Editing

Franco Casagni

Makeup Department

Rosario Prestopino

Makeup Department

Ferdinando Merolla

Makeup Department (hairdresser)

Angelo Vannella

Makeup Department (hair stylist)

Sergio Stivaletti

Special Effects (animatronics)

Germano Natali

Special Effects

Massimo Cristofanelli

Special Effects (technician)

Giovanni Corridori

Special Effects (suplier)

Antonio Corridori

Special Effects (suplier)

Renato Agostini

Special Effects (designer)

Brian Eno

Composer

Roger Eno

Composer

Bill Wyman

Composer

Steel Grave

Composer

Antonio Gabrielli

First assistant director

Paolo Zenatello

First assistant director

Alessandro Ingargiola

Second assistant director

Michele Soavi

Second unit director/Actor (Inspector Daniele Soave - uncredited)

Urbano Barberini

Inspector Alan Santini

Barbara Cupisti

Signora Albertini

Carola Stagnaro

Alma's mother

Maurizio Garrone

Maurizio, the raven trainer

Cristina Giachino

Maria, the assistant director
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  • With Opera, Dario Argento creates a psychosexual thriller which hosts one of the most memorable sequences of his career as well as issuing his trademark auteur use of color atop providing the viewer with a multitude of ideas upon sexuality and psychology as he provides a commentary upon the state of love in the offset of the AIDS epidemic. In trademark Argento style, the simplistic plot is convoluted with layers upon layers of meaning. The figure of Betty arguably represents Argento’s meditation upon observer expectation. Betty has dreamed of a stalker, much like the individual who is preying upon her, since her childhood. Thus, using the figure of an actress as the personification of ego, Argento introduces the legend of the curse upon the play in order to allow Betty’s subconscious desires for attention, in a malevolent form nonetheless--thus signaling the desperation that some willingly condones in order to garner external gratification via recognition (which is formally addressed during the climax)--to be aptly fulfilled. This is exemplified in the play’s director, Marco (Ian Charleson, Gandhi, Chariots of Fire, whom predates the character of Gaear Grimsrud in Coen brother’s Fargo by almost ten years), after Betty is lauded for her performance while he is conversely berated by the critics, stating, “The only bad luck Macbeth has brought you is fame.” Another theme in the work is that of superstition. Not only do many of the crew become preoccupied with the Macbeth curse but when the stagehand, Stefano (William McNamara), attempts to console Betty after a poor attempt at intercourse, he remarks that many opera stars resort to sex as stress relief before a show. The manner in which he mentions this trivia tidbit typecasts the profession as one that is filled with nymphomaniacs. Also, the original star of the production literally “breaks a leg” as she sits in a cast at home while whining about the performance before she throws a glass at the television screen. Relevant to the above-cited themes is that we watch as the killer removes plastic gloves from over a pair of leather gloves after committing a murder. This, alongside the fact that there is no love in any form throughout the film (Betty sleeps with Stefano because he is a fan and is wooed by his admiration, which Argento makes clear when Marco asks if she has a boyfriend, Betty replying in the negative), which can be seen as representative of the initial AIDS scare during the mid 1980’s which many prophesized would result in the death of love. Of course, in this respect, the selection of Macbeth as one of Shakespeare’s more vicious works was less than arbitrary on Argento’s behalf just as the murder’s psycho sadistic methods of execution are all performed with phallic symbols (knife, bullet, and scissors as opposed to Betty defending herself with a large rock). The film is further laden with symbols and motifs, all of which--unlike most horror films (which, I suppose is what, in part, makes Argento a master)--reinforce the plot. In a manner reminiscent of his Italian counterpart, Lucio Fulci, Argento’s main theme is that of voyeurism, connoted via the human eye. The killer’s sadism is epitomized, not in his murders, but rather in that he tapes straight pins just below Betty’s eyes in order to keep her from averting her sight from the murders as they occur before her (an in-joke for the director in that he was frustrated that many viewers were more than willing to miss central parts of his films by resorting to the same defense mechanism). The film opens with a tight shot of the reflection of the Parma Opera House in the eye of a raven, a character within the Marco’s version of Verdi opera. The circular pattern is latter echoed in mirrors (which becomes a leitmotif) in several rooms, as well as in the form of peepholes in assorted apartment doors throughout--the latter serving as the setting for the most harrowing sequence of the film (one of Argento’s most stylistic, masterful montages of his career) in which the killer places a gun to peephole as Mira (Daria Nicolodi) anxiously attempts to identify the individual on the other side of the door before being murdered (which would later be plagiarized in Saw II as was the voice of Jigsaw in the original from the killer in Opera). The manner in which the scene is shot is so astounding; few viewers will realize that the telephone that Betty is holding in the background is shattered by the bullet. By the end of the film, the central figure of the eye, not only Betty’s but many characters within the movie, loses its power in that many are removed, torn out in their entirety, blurred, or blindfolded (which says nothing of the intrusive doors which impede the viewer’s and various characters’ perspective of the action). As can be expected, Argento’s use of color is stunning throughout. He contrasts the bright colors seen in character’s wardrobes, various settings, and the plush, green rolling hills of Switzerland with the gothic staging of Macbeth. He also juxtaposes the operatic score--which compliments the director’s fluid camera movement --with hard rock ballads that signal each impending murder as editor Franco Franco Fraticelli cuts frame with each jarring riff. Yet the film is not without faults. The aforementioned rock scores are extremely dated and less-than-engaging (to the point of distraction). Also, Argento implements a pulsating camera at times of heightened emotion, which wears upon the audience. Lastly, there are a handful of plot holes. However, aside from the rock score, everything is a mere quibble which only momentarily distracts rather than depletes the overall strength of the work. The film houses a false ending set in the Swiss countryside which has a feel quite like Alfred Hitchcock’s rationale in the closing scene of Psycho. Many have cited that the last scene of the film seems arbitrary, atop making the film overlong, yet--if viewed from the perspective of parody--the Sound of Music-esque climax is sardonically refreshing visually as well as contextually. Though not his best work, Opera stands steadily behind Dario Argento’s more renowned films without pause. Argento provides his audience with a barrage of engaging ideas which are brought to the screen with equally powerful visuals. The flaws within the movie, though more numerous than in some of his other efforts, fail to diminish the strength of yet another noteworthy film by the Italian master. Trivia Tidbit: Vanessa Redgrave was slated to star in the film but dropped out prior to filming. Also, Michele Soavi (director of Cemetery Man) has an uncredited cameo as Inspector Daniele Soave (quaint character name indeed).

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