Friday, July 04, 2008

Let it Fly

A matter of principle prevents me from going to see David Cronenberg's first opera production, an adaptation of his own film The Fly, by Howard Shore, writer of the film's original score and Cronenberg's usual collaborator. I have to say I am tempted, as I was by other Parisian opera productions by celebrated filmmakers in the past couple of years, such as Michael Haneke's Don Giovanni and Emir Kusturica's The Time of the Gypsies, and Cronenberg is one of the greatest directors of his generation and probably the greatest English-speaking director alive. Apart from a few years of muddled films in the 1990s, Cronenberg has been consistenly brilliant in his examination of contemporary man's grappling with all-consuming technology, sexual obsession and violence. His films eschew the self-aggrandizing bluster of others such as Martin Scorsese and Brian de Palma, who never pass up an opportunity to remind audiences how revolutionary each new film supposedly is (and in the case of each of these, that is never the case). Cronenberg's modesty is reflected in his refusal to take himself too seriously and in his ability to treat of high art and popular culture with equal ease.

So why will I not go and see The Fly at Théâtre du Chatelet? It's not short on star-studded talent, as well as the score by Shore, there is a libretto by David Henry Hwang, whose play M. Butterfly provided the basis for Cronenberg's own 1994 film of the same name; the musical director is none other than Placido Domingo and the set design is by the great Dante Ferreti. My reason for staying away is that it's only Cronenberg that would get me into an opera house in the first place and I feel that going along would be imposture of the highest order. I know very little about opera, I can't say I understand it very well and I'm not even that curious in the broadest sense. I always get irritated when theatre folk tackle cinema because it seems to them to be an obvious step across because it involves human actors like their own métier. Unfortunately the vast majority of theatrical practitioners bring nothing of worth to film, grossly misunderstanding - and underestimating - the medium, being hidebound by their own art form, which, while it is a noble one, has little in common with a fluid and heavily mnemonic one as film is. Of course there have been some excellent filmmakers to have come from theatre, but for every Bergman, Welles or Fassbinder there are ten Anthony Minghellas, Kenneth Branaghs or Martin McDonaghs. I wish Cronenberg the best of luck in his new departure, and I hope that operagoers will be able to enjoy it without irritation (though the review of the show in today's Libération is not too complimentary) but this is a chapter in his career that I will respectfully sit out.