It’s hard for me to even admit that Dario Argento’s Opera had been a major blind spot of mine for far too long, but I’m thankful for the recent Blu-ray release of the film, courtesy of both Scorpion Releasing and Doppelganger Releasing, as it made this cinematic discovery feel like a true work of art befitting of the Horror Maestro’s stunning and wholly unique vision, confidently displaying this slice of giallo madness from 1987. And as you can probably tell, after just one viewing, I’m 110 percent a fan of Opera now and still cannot believe it took me this long to see this wildly weird masterpiece.
For anyone who hasn’t seen Opera, I’ll do my best not to spoil the abundance of intriguing revelations that happen throughout the movie. The simplified version of the film’s core story follows an ingénue soprano named Betty (Cristina Marsillach), who has just been tasked with the leading female role in the operatic version of Macbeth, after the main star Mara Cecova (who we never directly see) is hit by a car. But as Betty makes her splash as Lady Macbeth, a masked killer begins stalking those working in the opera house, forcing the rising starlet to bear witness to several vicious murders, leaving Betty unable to determine just who she can trust anymore.
Of course, as is the case with nearly every other Argento giallo, there’s a lot more to Opera than just a simple murder mystery. Its story, clearly the Maestro’s own take on Phantom of the Opera, with a slasher-meets-heavy-metal twist to it, has numerous intriguing layers, making this a film I’ll be digging into multiple times to find new things to fall in love with. Of course, saying that is slightly weird because I know that Argento would go on to make an official Phantom of the Opera film in the 1990s, but Opera certainly feels like his first time at-bat with some of the themes we’re introduced to in Gaston Leroux’s original story, and I dig its slightly off-beat tendencies (including larger-than-life supporting characters and blaring heavy metal musical cues).
One thing I did notice was that in some ways, Opera feels like Argento’s most personal film, with him utilizing the character of Marco (Ian Charleson)—a horror director who feels like the world has deemed him unworthy to be at the helm of a prestigious creative endeavor like an opera—as perhaps his very own cinematic vessel, used to represent his own frustrations as an artist (and after checking out the special features and doing a little online research, I do now realize that this was very much the case). It’s no secret that while most people will watch horror movies, many of those very same folks will dismiss them as “lesser” art forms, and the way these two worlds collide in Opera is unapologetically Argento in every way.
For every gorgeously composed moment we see of the Macbeth live performances (inside an absolutely stunning opera house that I wish I could make into my very own lavish home), Argento in turn delivers up a merciless and savage death, subjecting the film’s protagonist Betty to endure every blood-soaked hack and slash. There’s no escaping the carnage—from brutal stabbings to throats being ripped out to an innovative peephole gunshot kill—and Argento wants to make sure that we bear witness to everything he has in store for us, much like Opera’s protagonist Betty, who the masked killer outfits with a strip of needles below her eyes, making it impossible for her to look away. I will admit that even though I adored Opera and think it’s an intriguing master work from one of the horror genre’s boldest visionaries, the reveal of the killer and their motivations felt slightly underwhelming. What more than makes up for my disappointment in Opera’s unknown executioner, though, is Argento’s use of the ravens (who become these bizarrely frenetic harbingers over Marco’s production of Macbeth) in the finale, as it’s a totally batshit, yet utterly brilliant, sequence from a cinematic madman who was clearly having a ball as a director.
And par for the course when it comes to his films, Opera is a breathtaking visual feast, with some clever camera work from DP Ronnie Taylor (who also lensed Sea of Love, Popcorn, and oddly enough, Argento’s Phantom of the Opera (1998), in addition to lending his talents as a camera operator on films like Ken Russell’s The Devils, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, and Phantom of the Paradise), who finds a lot of innovative uses for his Steadicam, sometimes moving the camera through different scenes like a soaring bird, and other times becoming a frenzied, whirling dervish during Opera’s chase scenes (that spiral staircase scene—MY GOD). In any case, Taylor does some incredible work on the film on a technical level that is truly next-level, and it absolutely heightens the tension and terror that Argento continually builds throughout Opera’s various set pieces.
As far as this Blu-ray presentation goes, since this was my first time seeing Opera, I don’t have much to compare it to, but I do think this transfer is downright dazzling and looks like a work of art. The special features are a bit on the light side—we just get an interview with Argento as well as William McNamara, who stars in Opera as Betty’s love interest, Stefano—and I’m wondering if that’s because there is a special edition of the film in the works, too, which I’m guessing will feature more bonus goodies for fans.If you’re looking for a little more bang for your buck, then perhaps the yet-to-be-released special edition is more in line with what you’d be looking for. That being said, I do think this Blu-ray for Opera is worth it for longtime fans who are just in it for the HD overhaul that Opera receives here, simply because I cannot imagine a better looking version of the film existing anywhere else.
Movie Score: 4/5, Disc Score: 4/5