The trend of turning films into operas is gathering steam, but the concept is so new that practically every new movie-based opera presents some new twist. The newest flickopera (did I just coin a word?), The Fly, has the novelty of being written by the same composer who wrote the original soundtrack of the most recent film version, and itâ€™s directed for the stage by the filmâ€™s director, David Cronenberg. Canadian composer Howard Shore, who also wrote the music for The Lord of the Rings films, scored Cronenbergâ€™s 1986 movie, based on an earlier 1958 film, which was based on a 1957 short story by George Langelaan. The libretto is by playwright David Henry Hwang, and the conductor was PlÃ¡cido Domingo.
The opera was co-commissioned by ThÃ©Ã¢tre du ChÃ¢telet (Paris) and the Los Angeles Opera, and just finished its L.A. run over the weekend. Critical reception in both France and the U.S. has run the gamut from derisive to scathing. The consensus seems to be that the blame lies with the music, although the libretto has come it for its share of criticism, too. The music has been described as â€œhorrendously dull,â€ â€œinterminable,â€ â€œponderous and enervating,â€ â€œmonochrome,â€ and â€œsurprisingly tepid.â€ Mark Swed of the L.A. Times wrote, â€œfor more than two hours, there is little variety, little change. The vocal writing is generally flat and conversational. Phrases often repeat; though slightly varied, they are predictable. Sexual passion and insect angst inspire similar music,â€ and that in terms of production values, the music â€œranked somewhere in importance below make-up.â€
One writer reported overhearing an audience member saying, â€œThat is the worst opera I have ever seen.â€ The person making that comment has obviously had limited experience with bad operas; while The Fly canâ€™t by any standard be called an artistic success, and is almost certainly destined to join the huge number of new operas that are never revived, itâ€™s at least an honest attempt at a notoriously difficult art form.
You can check out video of the opera, The Fly here and here.