Follow Voicebox on Twitter Follow Voicebox on Facebook
Follow Voicebox on Facebook

The Man-Fly Meld

July 16, 2008

Yesterday, I had interesting phone conversations with the dramatist David Henry Hwang and the movie director David Cronenberg. We were talking about the new opera version of The Fly, for which Hwang has created the libretto based on David Cronenberg's cult 1986 movie (as well as the 1958 Kurt Neumann film and the original 1957 novella by George Langelaan.) The score has been written by Howard Shore, who wrote the music for the 1986 film.

From talking to Hwang and Cronenberg, it sounds like they've been aiming for a compelling fusion of film and theatrical sensibilities.

According to Hwang and Cronenberg (and some reports about the project in the media) the opera makes use of more makeup and special effects than you would normally see on the opera stage. The production involves a puppet baboon and baritone Daniel Okulitch has to scale the walls and ceiling of the set in a harness. Shore's score involves many truncated back and forth exchanges between characters, like film dialogue. The libretto also references a couple of Cronenberg's other films, including Scanners and Videodrome.

Yet the creative team, according to my sources, isn't in the least bit interested in re-creating Cronenberg's movie on stage. The production uses no video; the story takes place in flashback and is set in the 1950s; Cronenberg says he hasn't even watched his movie since it came out in 1986.

But the point in the opera where film and theatre intersect most intriguingly by the sounds of it, is where Cronenberg employs an acrobatic double to perform a daring physical act beyond the capabilities of Okulitch (who, granted, is in better physical shape than most opera singers and reportedly does most of his own stunts.) Yet, as Hwang tells me, even though Cronenberg uses this highly filmic technique on stage, Okulitch's momentary stand-in follows theatrical conventions in the sense that the opera's creators haven't tried particularly hard to find a perfect physical match for the singer. The acrobat employed to do the scene in Paris, Hwang says, didn't look anything like Okulitch. "We're not trying to fool anyone in the audience," Hwang says.

Theatre relies on audience members suspending their disbelief to a much greater degree than film. But I wonder if this film-theatre fusion will work for me when I see the production in September when it arrives in Los Angeles? Or will Cronenberg and his collaborators have created a hideous monster -- a theatrical Brundlefly.

Following the world premiere in Paris, which closed three days ago, the opera will have its U.S. opening at Los Angeles Opera on September 7.


Post a Comment

<< Home