I don't want to spoil the ending too much but the main premise an understudy opera singer gets her chance after the lead soprano has an accident. The bad news is that she is being stalked and he kills people in front of her.
The ending will suprise most viewers and as I said before it's worth a look.
The extras aren't bad and there's English and Italian dubbing as well as subtitles.
Though I've yet to see Sleepless and The Card Player, Opera remains, perhaps, the last truly definitive Argento thriller... with the usual giallo trademarks employed to a dizzying effect in a number of vicious, though no less elaborate, dramatic set-pieces. Admittedly, like much of Argento's work, Opera can occasionally seem like something of a throwaway... a lurid thriller, populated by lightweight, clichéd characters, over-the-top performances, and too much style-over-substance. However, one scratch beneath the surface reveals something deeper, with Argento once again playing with the self-reflexive notion of films about filmmaking; the idea of seeing and the audience's relationship to the perspective of his characters. Like Tenebrae, his boldest experiment in self-reference, Opera frames it's scenes of orchestrated gore around the production of Verdi's Mac Beth, allowing Argento to comment on his own persona and attitude to his film through the character of Marco, Mac Beth's strained director, trying to do his best whilst murder and chaos is breaking out all around him.
There's also the reliance on Argento trademarks... the gloved hands; the drifting point of view shots; the close-ups on the eye; and the lead protagonist who ends up knowing more about the killer than they initially suspected. However, unlike previous Argento giallos, Opera doesn't focus on a male outsider turned amateur sleuth (Bird With The Crystal Plumage, TheCat O' Nine Tails, Deep Red, Tenebrae), but instead, takes it's cue from Suspiria and Inferno, with a female lead setting something of a template for his later films, the abovementioned Trauma and The Stendhal Syndrome. In terms of enjoyment, Opera certainly rivals Argento's debut picture, Bird With The Crystal Plumage, with that continuing combination of "who-dunnit" detective work (with clues for the audience and the characters), and brutal stalk-and-slash set-pieces, the best of which involves Argento's former muse Daria Nicolodi, a peephole, a shadowy figure, and a gun.
The cinematography is excellent, as ever; falling somewhere between the lurid stylisation of Suspiria's Technicolor abstraction, and the more low-key recreation of reality in Tenebrae, with the camera always moving, establishing a mood of paranoia and unease, or adapting to various character's points-of-view to swoop or linger around the grand, majestic opera house. The colours are vivid, with the interplay between the dark-shadows at the edges of the frame and the deep reds of the opera curtains (or the buckets of blood) that surprisingly pre-figure the use of colour-coding in Kieslowski's final masterpiece, Three Colours Red. Like all of Argento's best work, Opera is violence at it's most shamefully beautiful... with the director composing his scenes of murder and abuse with a painterly eye and an exquisite attention to cinematic detail.
As usual, the acting isn't Oscar worthy, but, at the same time, it's hardly as abysmal as it has been in some of the recent crop of U.S. horror films clogging up our cinemas. The best version, for me, is the original Italian language release, since the dubbing is less obvious and most of the actors seem to calibrate better with their voices. There's some nice turns from lead actress Cristina Marsillach and supporting players Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini, and the aforementioned Daria Nicolodi (in what I believe to be her last Argento role), which lend an air of prestige and performance believability to the film... though as ever, there's no doubt that it's Argento and his technicians who are really the stars of the film. Although it doesn't quite top the levels of violence seen in the earlier Tenebrae (which is still, perhaps, his most controversial work), Opera manages to stake it's claim as another vicious and violent symphony of blood, with the killer here, at one point, taking the time to stab a victim in the neck... with Argento cutting to a lovely close-up showing the knife sawing away at the jaw-bone.
Another repeated method of torture involves having the heroin tied to a chair, with a strip of needles taped under her eyes, so that every time she tries to blink away from the terror, the needles dig into her eyeballs (unbelievably, Argento actually toyed with using this as an "in-cinema" marketing tool!!!), which is one of his absolute, most vicious concoctions. Unsurprisingly, Opera was heavily censored (like much of Argento's work) at the time of it's release... particularly in the UK. However, now with censorship becoming more relaxed, we can see a film like this (and Tenebrae, and Suspiria... but sadly not Deep Red and Bird With the Crystal Plumage, both of which are still cut) as the director originally intended. Opera looks great here in a re-mastered, uncut, widescreen print, with the format really making the most of Argento's bold use of cinematography.
The ending has often garnered mixed reviews from most Argento fans, perhaps because it's a bit drawn out... However, while I'll admit it's nowhere near as intelligent or satisfying as the endings of his earlier films, it's still no reason to down-grade Opera, which is, regardless of the slight flaws in the finale-act, an entertaining, thrilling and mostly gripping giallo... whilst it's also, perhaps, the best place to start for those new to Argento's work.
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