Long unreleased in French cinemas, “Opera” (exploited on video under the title “Terror at the Opera”) by Dario Argento is broadcast this evening at 11:45 pm on Arte *. The opportunity to (re) discover this great sick film of the master of Italian horror.
In 1985, Dario Argento was approached to mount the Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi by the managers of the Sferisterio de Macerata theater. Enthusiastic, the filmmaker imagines a daring rock adaptation set in the Viking Age, but his sponsors are far from excited and the project does not succeed. A painful failure which he made the subject of his next film two years later.
Opera takes place behind the scenes of Macbeth, whose soprano quarrels with the director, a former director of horror films whose ideas she considers hazy. But an accident keeps him out of distribution. After some hesitation, because the opera is deemed cursed, young Betty agrees to replace her. She soon receives threats and is targeted by a sadistic killer.
It is easy to draw a parallel between Argento and this director born of horror who tries his hand at the lyric scene, attracting the sarcasm of the profession. Unfortunately for the filmmaker, the nightmare has only just begun, to the point of wondering if his film is not also the victim of a curse. Despite a comfortable budget, incidents multiply on the set.
A delicate casting
In addition to having to direct his former companion, Daria Nicolodi, who does not appreciate his role, Dario Argento has to deal with the withdrawal of Vanessa Redgrave in the role of the diva Mara Cecova, who was originally more important. The Blow Up actress will never set foot on the set while pocketing all of her cachet. Argento is also confronted with the state of health of Ian Charleson, ill with AIDS, who is making his last appearance here on the big screen, and with the death of an actor during the shootings.
As for the heroine, it is the young Cristina Marsillach who is chosen, on the recommendations of Giorgio Armani. If she has a face reminiscent of the childish charm of Jessica Harper or Jennifer Connelly, she shows a nasty character that sets off arguments with Argento from the first day of filming, to the point where they end up no longer speaking the speech. The filmmaker will refer to her in his autobiography Fear like the most difficult actress he’s ever had to work with.
A battered distribution
Once filming is finished, Dario Argento is not at the end of his troubles. The finale, set in lush Swiss mountains, a setting reminiscent of Phenomena, is cut in many versions of operation, especially in the United States where Opera is distributed by the Orion company. The reception in theaters is very disappointing, including in Italy. After this failure, Argento will sign Two Evil Eyes, an Italian-American production with George Romero.
In France, the film is deprived of cinema release and can only be viewed on video, in a cropped and truncated copy, under the title Terror at the Opera. It was not until the restoration of the publisher Le Chat qui fume in 2017 to finally discover this work in high definition and in its integral version.
* Opera is also visible for free on the websiteArte.tv until 04/26/2021.