The Fly Mutates Into Opera

August 27, 2008
By Cecilia Kang

Creators of an opera version of The Fly insisted that they weren't trying to reproduce director David Cronenberg's movie onstage, but rather that they set out to do a new work that, like its title creature, is a mutation and hybrid, based in part on the 1986 SF film and George Langelaan's original short story of the same name.

"This opera is its own creature," Cronenberg said. "It's not the movie. I wasn't trying to achieve the same things. It really is a new thing."

Cronenberg, composer Howard Shore and conductor Placido Domingo were on hand to discuss bringing The Fly to the stage. Set in the '50s, the opera revolves around three characters: Daniel Okulitch's Seth Brundle, Ruxandra Donose's Veronica Quaife and David Curry's Stathis Borans.

Cronenberg's stipulation before coming aboard was that this be a fully realized reinterpretation of the original story. "I didn't want to remake the movie," Cronenberg said. "David Henry Hwang brought things to that libretto that I would never have done, which were wonderful. [They] alluded to the movie, yet were quite different."

As in the short story and movie, the opera centers on a scientist who creates a transporter device that he tests on himself. Tragedy ensues when the scientist inadvertently mixes his own DNA with that of a fly that has unexpectedly tagged along for the ride.

The opera debuted in Paris this past summer, and it marked Cronenberg's stage debut--that is, unless you count his role as Banquo in a high-school production of Macbeth. "I thought I looked good in the tights," Cronenberg joked.

As Brundle "evolves" from man to Brundlefly, designers used a combination of makeup, costuming and, ultimately, puppetry for the final incarnation of the fly monster in the finale.

Set designer Dante Ferretti (Sweeney Todd) was brought in to bring the production to life on stage. The detailed sets have the warehouse look of the 1986 film, although the look of Brundle's machinery has been changed considerably. The sleek, pod-like telepods have been replaced by two crude square-shaped boxes with exposed wiring and plenty of blinking lights.

This operatic interpretation of The Fly joins Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain opera as part of an attempt to modernize the medium and bring in a new audience.

"My dream is coming true," Domingo said. "One of the ideas I've had is that there is so much talent in Hollywood that could be connected with the world of opera. In this season, we will be able to have three film directors--William Friedkin and Woody Allen [directing] Il Trittico and now David Cronenberg on The Fly. It's thrilling."

Shore also composed the music for the 1986 film. Rather than simply rework his 1986 score, Shore worked with Hwang to develop completely new music.

"I wanted to bring elements of traditional opera," Shore (The Lord of the Rings) said. "The framework for The Fly is steeped in the classic form of opera. There's a very contemporary score written specifically for the stage. There are little samples in the beginning and end that bridge the gap from the '80s [movie]." The Fly opens Sept. 7 and runs until Sept. 27. --Jeff Otto

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