In the first messy shocker in Howard Shore and David Henry Hwang’s opera “The Fly,” which world preemed Wednesday at Paris’ Chatelet Theater, scientist Seth Brundle (bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch) teleports a live baboon. It ends up a carcass, covered in goop.
But that’s nothing compared to French reviewers’ slaughter of “The Fly,” an adaptation of the 1986 David Cronenberg horror film that they put through the critical grinder late last week.
First-time opera composer Shore’s score “sounds like a piece of homework, clumsily orchestrated, from a moderately talented disciple of Arnold Schoenberg,” Le Monde said of the Chatelet Theater and Los Angeles Opera production.
Le Figaro also made mincemeat of director Cronenberg’s retread of his landmark movie: “The Fly” confirmed “that cinema and theater, above all opera, are two very different arts.”
Liberation recognized Cronenberg’s “real savoir-faire direction.” But it said Shore’s “lack of expertise and imagination could hardly be emphasized in a crueler fashion.” And Shore’s “pop” style pales before the work of “serious” opera composers. What’s “pop” about Shore’s 134 minutes of atonal short-phrasing — which only occasionally coalesces into sustained Bernard Herrmann-ish doom-laden romanticism or a sustained brass barrage — only Liberation can say.
Early international reports have largely been neutral or upbeat: Brit newspaper the Guardian praised the film’s “nostalgic thrill,” and the Associated Press lauded its “old-school special effects.”
Gallic reviews may have dented ticket sales: Saturday’s perf, the second of five through July 13, saw some empty seats.
Chatelet Theater director Jean-Luc Choplin said he wants to open up opera to nonhabitues, and with “The Fly,” he’s apparently succeeded. Packed with Cronenberg diehards, Paris’ trendy 30ish art crowd and a sprinkling of goth girls, Saturday’s audience at the Chatelet gave “The Fly” a largely warm reception.
Placido Domingo, orchestra director of “The Fly,” seemed particularly popular. When, at the start of act two, a spotlight trained onto his bouffant white hair, peeking out from the pit, the Chatelet broke out into hearty bravos.
After the show, opera buffs echoed some of the Gallic critics’ carps. “It’s too lyric-heavy, lacks the pauses and rhythm of real opera,” said Erica Bonomi, an Italian architect.
Cronenberg fans had a field night, however. They celebrated the familiarity of the opera’s only set — Brundle’s lab, dominated by two huge cast-iron telepods — and when mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Donose, as journo Veronica Quaife, sang, “Be afraid. Be very afraid,” after discovering Brundle’s back bristles, the lines elicited knowing laughs.
“Maybe the music’s in danger of being monotonous, but the opera’s a fascinating case of a director commenting on his earlier work,” said French writer Philippe Curval after the show.
L.A.-based Cronenberg fans will be able judge for themselves: “The Fly” lands at the Los Angeles Opera in September.