Horror opera is probably not a term you're overly familiar with, unless you're one of those people that flocked to watch Paris Hilton's face fall off in Repo. You should be, by the way, because that was awesome. Repo started out as a ten-minute operetta called the Necromerchant's Debt that eventually progressed into the spectacle it ultimately became, but what about regular, stodgy opera. Can that be horrifying?
The answer is yes, there have been a few operas that can easily be classified as a horror tales, and some of them are damned frightening to watch. Most of these were adaptations from better known film and literature works, but not always. If you'd like a little fright in your high art evening, then here's five that can provide it.
5. Children in the Mist: The Mist is a Stephen King novella that is one of the most soul-crushingly scary things ever put on paper, even for a master of such things. Sean Pflueger decided to take the tale of humanity under siege from eldritch horrors hiding in a mysterious, all-consuming mist and set it to music earlier this year in Washington DC. The production was fairly low budget, and ironically featured no mist, but was fairly well received. A compelling score and clever use of darkness to build fear of the unknown, lurking abominations overshadowed an execution that was unintentionally funny at times.
4. Evenings in Quarantine: According to a highly scientific and not at all satirical or completely made up study, Pittsburgh is woefully unprepared for the day the dead rise to feast on the living. Well, you can't blame that on Bonnie Bogovich and Elizabeth Rishel, who produced a highly innovative attempt to zombify opera with Quarantine. Using pre-shot footage of the city under undead siege as a backdrop, three actors sing their way through evading ghouls in hopes of reaching safety. Though there was a great deal of focus on light-hearted modernism, the expertly shot footage was full of amazing scares and very good looking Zs that made up in the shivers department.
3. Industrial Symphony No. 1: I'm not sure if you can call David Lynch's spellbinding performance piece technically an opera. It's more grand guignol than true all-sung work, but whatever it is it can both change the way you look at theater and unsettle you to your very core. The piece represents the shattered psyche of a broken-hearted woman, her soul drifting in and out of a bizarre nightmare world full of dwarves, terrifying falls, and skinned deer people. Lucky for you, someone put the whole thing online, which is good because the only other way to see it is to drop $200 on a box set.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
2. Fall of the House of Usher: Now here is a true opera by one of the modern masters of such things, Philip Glass. Glass took one of Edgar Allen Poe's best-known works and transformed it into a giant gothic examination of madness and possession. The Nashville Opera company in particular staged an amazing production that used terrifying projections of ghostly figures to embody the dismal tale. It was staged here in Houston by Opera Vista last year, and remains a very popular work.
1. The Manson Family: In 1969 Charles Manson ordered a series of grisly murders that launched him into one of the most extravagant media circuses of all time. John Moran was inspired by that trial, which brought Manson's apocalyptic charisma and obsession with the Beatles' White Album into every home in America. Though the focus is more on the trial than the murders, Moran's music alone is so buzzing and surreal that just listening to it brings visions of madness and creepy crawling to mind. Bonus: Iggy Pop starred as the Prosecutor, a character based on Vincent Bugliosi who successfully convicted Manson and his accomplices.