I love ravens. My love affair started with them in college at the University of Iowa, where flocks of ravens would wing around the Pentacrest and other areas of the campus–it was so thrilling to watch, like nature’s fury unleashed, but with bodies attached. I’ve always been a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and that’s been my golden standard for creepy use of birds, the strange alien intelligence they seem to have. Second in line is Sam Raimi’s ravens in A Simple Plan, a bad omen, symbol, used most effectively. But I think both are surely eclipsed by Dario Argento’s use of ravens in Opera. (Check out the link below for Opera‘s international trailer.)
Opera begins with a fabulous opening shot from the perspective of reigning opera diva Mira (Daria Nicolodi) as she has a meltdown during her rehearsal for Verdi’s Macbeth when the ravens start attacking her. The camera jerks aggressively up and down and side to side as the diva, who we never see, makes her way from the stage and out of the theater to the street, all the while hurling insults and comments to those who dare get in her way. Mira is injured when a car fails to yield to her and runs her down.
The ingenue and understudy Betty (Cristina Marsillach) then gets her chance to step up as the lead at the opera house, but she has deep misgivings because in the theater world a debut as Lady Macbeth is bad luck. This production of Macbeth is put together by former horror director Marco (Ian Charleson), and though his crepe trappings are made fun of by the press, Betty is applauded for her brilliant debut.
It’s soon shown that Betty has deep psychological problems. She’s frigid due to something dark that happened in her childhood, which she doesn’t remember, and hates sex, proclaiming she’s "lousy at it." Shortly after Betty makes this announcement, a psychotic with shiny black leather gloves takes a fancy to her, tying her up so she’s immobile, a perfect audience, and taping needles beneath her eyes, forcing them wide open, so she has to see what he has to show her.
The psychotic then performs most artful murders that only Betty witnesses. When he is done, he lovingly caresses Betty’s body before freeing his captive audience.
I loved the ideas of performer and performance that are played on in Opera, and my favorite scene, when the ravens from the production of Macbeth take on a life of their own, wheeling around the auditorium and frightening the glitzy, well-heeled audience with more than they bargained for–that particular mise-en-scene is going to stay with me for a long time. Maybe forever.