The Fly at the LA Opera Review - Unexpected Consequences

The chorus on the set of "The Fly." Photo: Marie-Noelle Robert

Impresario Placido Domingo, who commissioned The Fly from composer Howard Shore and playwright David Henry Hwang for the LA Opera, hopes it will be "an unprecedented addition to the operatic repertoire." Well, we're not so sure (although Georja liked it better than Gerald did).

For her, the opera paid off in a big way emotionally, visually and thematically, though the first act tries a little too hard to suggest that bad things are coming.  For him, the music failed to reach him despite the fact that he is a fan of the movies that the opera was based on.

Placido Domingo and Ruxandra Donose discuss the score. Photo: Marie-Noelle Robert

Remember The Fly, the flick with Jeff Goldblum in the title role? Film buffs who know the earlier black-and-white B-movie starring David Hedison will know why the production design is pegged on 1958. Mad scientist experiments with teleportation, involves a hot lady journalist, tries it on himself with unexpected consequences--namely, getting his genes scrambled with those of a wayward housefly.

Dr. Seth Brundle slowly transforms from human to fly. Photo: Robert Millard

Veronica (Ruxandra Donose) makes friends with the shy Brundle (Daniel Okulitch). Photo: Robert Millard

Georja: In this production, the strongest character is the woman. Veronica, a scientific journalist who becomes Dr. Seth Brundle's lover, is played wonderfully by the hot, gorgeous Romanian mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Donose. Her character not only lends him support and in the end becomes a real Earth Mother, but also her singing is much more dynamic and memorable than that of lead bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch.

Gerald: Okay, you're an actress and you get off on the performances. But I'm still fretting about the material. Yes, it's a great, compelling, world-class story. It's a parable for our time about technology gone wrong and priorities turned on end. But where's the music? I felt like the emperor who complained to Mozart there were "too many notes." I just think librettist David Henry Hwang went overboard. Too many words! They get in the way of the music, which seems to exist just to carry the words along.

Georja: I feel the opposite, Gerald. The dialogue is very 1950ish and in some cases deliberately camp – promoting chuckles in the audience.

Gerald: But it was nonstop recitative. The emotion in the music was not expressed as melody but as dynamics, loud and cacophonous.  That doesn't carry you anywhere the way a melody does. 

Brundle arm wrestles Marky (Jay Hunter Morris) over a girl (Ashlyn Rust). Photo: Robert Millard

Georja: I do think the music in the first act was too heavy-handed. Almost every note shouted, "Warning! Warning!" There were some lighter scenes, cute scenes, which could have had music that was more apropos, with maybe more subtle overtones that something bad was going to happen. It seemed like the music was trying to build suspense and intrigue. But the way the story unfolds, all the goodies are in the second act.

The transformation is complete. Photo: Robert Millard

Gerald: I just don't know why it had to be an opera. There isn't a single passage I want to download to my MP3 player. I don't feel compelled to invite friends over, spin the CD, and say "You gotta hear this." The music is a conveyor belt for the words in this thing.

Ruxandra Donose and Daniel Okulitch in the Fly. Photo: Robert Millard

Georja: The production reaches great operatic depth in the second act when Veronica has to deal with being pregnant with the fly's baby. When her passionate maternal nature overpowers her better judgment, that's best and most powerfully expressed in the operatic medium.

Gerald: We really differ there. Donose has immense talent, and it shows. But for this opera lover, she could have yelled her "speeches" at the end with much the same effect.

Georja: No way, Gerald. I think you have to take in an opera as a complete package. You've got sets, costumes, characters, action, voices, and the music. And the whole adds up to a real treat. The only thing that bothered me a lot was the blatant exploitation and abuse of animals.  Dr. Brundle explodes a baboon!

Gerald: Baboon, bam-boom. This is theater, Georja, you said so yourself. And the baboon was a puppet!

Daniel Okulitch, playing Dr. Seth Brundle, emerges from his telepod. Photo: Robert Millard

Georja: Here's a hunky man whining about wanting to "lose the flesh." The audience gets to see him in the nude, and he's quite a specimen! Meanwhile he kills a magnificent fellow creature without a thought. He regrets the poor monkey dies, but he does it again later. I think his own deformity is his karma.

Brundle loses his humanity and his love. Photo: Robert Millard

Gerald: It's a parable. And a powerful one. You buy it as theatrics. I'm just saying I'm not so thrilled with it as music. I thought the same of Elliot Goldenthal's Grendel, and maybe I'm wrong on both, who knows? Maybe I just don't get the new opera. I didn't like New Coke, either.

Beth Clayton as the Officer comforts Veronica (Ruxandra Donose). Photo: Robert Millard

Georja:  It was opera all the way, moving and beautiful.

Gerald: Call me retro, but a hundred years from now the only opera of our time they'll be reviving will be Sunset Boulevard.

Georja: Sunset Boulevard isn't an opera. You just wanted to have the last word!

Make-up by Stephan Dupuis–just the beginning of Brundle's problems shown here. Photo: Mark Rappaport

The Fly by Howard Shore and David Henry Hwang
An LA Opera commission
U.S. Premiere / New Production
Sung in English.
LA Opera Website

Sunday     September 7, 2008     2:00 p.m.
Wednesday September 10, 2008     7:30 p.m.
Saturday     September 13, 2008     7:30 p.m.
Tuesday     September 16, 2008     7:30 p.m.
Saturday     September 20, 2008     7:30 p.m.
Saturday     September 27, 2008     2:00 p.m.

Georja Umano is an actress-comedienne and animal advocate.  Gerald Everett Jones is author of the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels.

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