Opera is the final entry in the run of films that Argento made in the ’70s and ’80s, a series that cemented him as a master of horror. His best film by leaps and bounds was Suspiria, and none of the others came remotely close to the hallucinatory, operatic nature of that film. But despite being very respected due to his earlier work, everything he has done since the early ’90s has been routinely panned by critics as marking the demise of a once-great auteur.
Plot and narrative are secondary concerns to Argento and always have been: even with his best films, you have to suspend any sense of narrative logic to go with the action unfolding on the screen. Opera (or Terror at the Opera, as it was called in some territories) is basically a string of highly inventive deaths and scenes of torture that are connected by a barebones murder-mystery story. It centres on a masked assailant murdering people and stalking an understudy who has been given the role of Lady Macbeth in its Verdi opera version.
I personally get squeamish around anything involving needles and/or eyeballs: almost any other gore or violence I can handle with no problem. This film has more than one sequence where the mysterious murderer straps needles to the lead girl’s eyes so that she is forced to watch him murder people, because if she closes her eyes they will bleed. I thought the re-education sequences in A Clockwork Orange were intense enough… The rest of the violence is what you would expect, and it comes close to Argento’s Tenebrae in terms of bizarre and unusual deaths on-screen.
The music in Opera is a weird mishmash of Brian Eno, Goblin, heavy metal and, of course, opera. The performances are wooden beyond belief, but Argento generally wasn’t the best with actors. He tended to cast one or two great actors to bring up the performances of everybody else, and that doesn’t always work. It’s partially overdubbed, as was typical of his most famous films. The disc includes both English and Italian audio; which is preferable is debatable, as usual.
Argento fanatics will find Opera essential, but those who are new to his work should probably jump in with Suspiria and then Deep Red. The disc’s features include making-of footage, a new long-form interview with Argento, and a restoration featurette.