Opera (film)

Opera (also known and released as Terror at the Opera[1]) is a 1987 Italian giallo film co-written and directed by Dario Argento, with music composed and performed by Brian Eno, Claudio Simonetti, and Bill Wyman. Starring Cristina Marsillach, Urbano Barberini, and Ian Charleson, the plot focuses on a young soprano (Marsillach) involved in a series of murders being committed inside an opera house by a masked assailant.

Theatrical release poster by Renato Casaro
Directed byDario Argento
Produced byDario Argento
Ferdinando Caputo
Mario Cecchi Gori
Vittorio Cecchi Gori
Screenplay byDario Argento
Story byDario Argento
Franco Ferrini
StarringCristina Marsillach
Ian Charleson
Urbano Barberini
Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni
William McNamara
Music byClaudio Simonetti
CinematographyRonnie Taylor
Edited byFranco Fraticelli
ADC Films
Cecchi Gori Cinematografica
RAI Italiana
Distributed byCecchi Gori/CDI
Release date
19 December 1987
Running time
107 minutes
Budget$8,000,000 (estimated)

The film was one of Argento's most commercially successful, seeing 1,363,912 ticket sales in his native country of Italy.[2] This is the second Dario Argento horror film to have THX audio certified and picture quality.


When Mara Cecova, the arrogant and ill-tempered star of an avant-garde production of Verdi's Macbeth at the Parma Opera House, is injured after getting hit by a car outside the theater during an argument with the director, Cecova's young understudy, Betty (Cristina Marsillach), is given the coveted role of Lady Macbeth. In spite of her initial sense of foreboding, Betty is an instant success with her performance. However, an anonymous figure finds his way into the opera house on the opening night, watching Betty's performance from an empty box. When a stagehand finds him, the figure murders him by impaling him on a coat-hook.

While at her boyfriend Stefano's (William McNamara) apartment, the unseen assailant breaks in and overpowers Betty. He gags her with tape, ties her to a pillar and forces her to watch him kill Stefano, taping a row of needles beneath each of her eyes to ensure she sees every horrific detail. Afterwards, the hooded, masked killer unties Betty and flees the apartment. Disturbed by a half-hidden childhood recollection of the same hooded killer murdering her own mother several years earlier, Betty chooses not to go to the police and instead confides in her director, Marco (Ian Charleson) that the killer may know her.

The next day, Inspector Alan Santini (Urbano Barberini) arrives at the opera house and questions the staff about Stefano's murder, as well as an apparently connected attack on the troubled production's pet ravens, three of which were found dead after the show. Betty arrives at the opera house for rehearsals, but avoids Santini by hiding in her dressing room. There, she calls her agent, the motherly Mira (Daria Nicolodi), for advice on her situation.

Later that day, after her costume is found slashed to ribbons, Betty meets with the wardrobe seamstress, Giulia (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni). While repairing the dress, Giulia finds a gold bracelet sewn onto it. While Betty and Giulia try to find what the faded words on the bracelet say, the killer intervenes, once again restraining Betty and taping needles under her eyes. He then attacks Giulia in order to retrieve the bracelet. Bleeding to death from stab wounds, Giulia inadvertently swallows the bracelet with her dying breath, forcing the assailant to cut her throat open in order to retrieve it. The assailant unties Betty and flees.

When Betty returns to her apartment, she is met in the lobby by Santini and tells him that the killer may be after her. Santini promises to send Betty a detective to keep guard over her. While Betty struggles with her vision after applying eye drops, a man identifying himself as Inspector Soavi arrives to look after her. Some time later, Mira arrives and tells Betty that she talked with a man in the lobby claiming to be Soavi. Unsure of which one is the impostor, Betty and Mira hide while the figure claiming to be Soavi receives a phone call and leaves the apartment.

While Betty tries to call the police, Mira answers a knock at the door and demands the visitor identify himself. As she looks through the peep hole, she is shot in the head and killed. Betty is forced to hide as the killer breaks in, and comes across the mortally wounded Soavi (Michele Soavi) when he stumbles into the apartment. After a pursuit in which the half-blind Betty shoots at the killer with Soavi's gun, she escapes through a ventilation shaft with the help of a girl living in the next apartment over. Betty returns to the opera house and meets with Marco. He tells her that he has a plan to trap the killer, while Betty ponders connections between the killer and her long-dead abusive mother.

The following night, Betty once again takes the stage as Lady Macbeth, but her performance is interrupted when Marco unleashes a flock of vengeful ravens into the audience. Recognizing the face of their attacker from the previous night, the birds swoop down on him sitting in the audience, gouging out one of his eyes. The murderer, who is revealed to be Santini, attempts to shoot at Betty on stage. Santini evades capture and pounces on Betty in her dressing room, dragging her to a far-flung corner of the building.

Santini reveals that he was once the young teenage lover to Betty's mother and murdered young women at her behest, but killed the mother as well due to her escalating demands from watching his deeds; Betty witnessed the murder from behind a partly open door. Now, many years later, Santini's desire to kill has been rekindled by Betty's appearance, which he sees as her mother's reincarnation. Blindfolding Betty and tying her to a chair, Santini stages his own death by setting fire to the room and apparently himself. Betty manages to break free and escapes from the blaze.

Betty and Marco leave Rome, traveling to his house in the Swiss Alps so she can recuperate. However, when Marco hears a television broadcast that the man thought to have been burned alive was not Santini but a clothed mannequin, he yells for Betty to run away. Santini shows up at the house to finish what he started and kills the housekeeper. Betty flees into the nearby woods with Santini in pursuit. Marco tackles him, only to be stabbed to death. Betty distracts Santini by coming onto him, long enough to bash him on the head with a rock, whereupon the police arrive to take him away. Traumatized by her nightmarish experience, Betty wanders though an empty meadow to find solace in nature. Finding a lizard trapped in the grass, Betty frees it and tells it to "go free".



Title Performer/Composer Publisher
  • "White Darkness"
  • "Balance"
  • "From the Beginning"
Brian Eno and Roger Eno By Arrangement with Opal Ltd, London
  • "Opera"
  • "Craws"
  • "Confusion"
Claudio Simonetti By Arrangement with BMG Ariola-Walkman SRL
  • "Opera Theme"
  • "Black Notes"
Bill Wyman and Terry Taylor By Arrangement with Ripple Music Ltd.
  • "Knights of the Night"
  • "Steel Grave"
Steel Grave a.k.a. Gow By Arrangement with Franton Music/Walkman SRL
  • "No Escape"
Norden Light By Arrangement with Sonet
  • "Lady Macbeth ("Vieni t'afretta")
From opera "Macbeth". Composed by Giuseppe Verdi. Performed by Maria Callas. By Arrangement with Fonit Cetra
  • "Casta Diva"
From "Norma". Composed by Vincenzo Bellini. Performed by Maria Callas. By Arrangement with Fonit Cetra
  • "Amami Alfredo"
  • "Sempre libera"
From "La Traviata". Composed by Giuseppe Verdi. Performed by Maria Callas. By Arrangement with Fonit Cetra
  • "Un bel dì vedremo"
From "Madama Butterfly". Composed by Giacomo Puccini. Performed by Mirella Freni. By Arrangement with PolyGram (as Poligram)
  • "Macbeth" (excerpt)
Composed by Giuseppe Verdi. Performed by Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz (as Elisabetta Norberg Schulz) soprano, Paola Leolini Soprano, Andrea Piccinni (as Andrea Piccini) Tenor, Michele Pertusi Baritone, with "Arturo Toscanini" Symphonic Orchestra of Emilia and Romagna. Recorded at the Elite Studio of Sermide (MN)


Dario Argento based the movie on his experiences directing a failed production of Giuseppe Verdi's Macbeth, with Ian Charleson's character of Marco being based on Argento himself. The plot device of needles taped under the eye (an image featured prominently in the film's promotional campaign), came from a joke of Argento's. The director said it would annoy him when people would look away during the scary scenes in his films, and jokingly suggested taping pins under people's eyes so they couldn't look away from the film. The role of Signora Mara Cecova was written with Vanessa Redgrave in mind. When she proved to be unavailable, the character's scenes were greatly reduced.

Actress Daria Nicolodi originally did not want to play the role of Mira, having recently ended her long-time relationship with Argento. What finally convinced her to take the role was the character's elaborate and shocking death scene. She would later say that filming her death scene was tremendously frightening as it required her to have a small amount of explosive placed on the back of her head. The role of Inspector Daniele Soavi was played by the character's namesake, Argento's long-time collaborator Michele Soavi, in an uncredited role. This was the final film of actor Ian Charleson, who tested positive for HIV after a minor car accident, something which he had suspected for several months. He died two years after the film's release.

The film was picked up for a planned 1989 US release by Orion Pictures and prepared as a 95 min R-rated edit (Terror at the Opera), which had eleven minutes removed, mainly the epilogue set in the Swiss Alps and Betty's final confrontation with the murderer. However, due to Orion's growing financial issues and Argento's refusal to allow the epilogue to be omitted, the film was never released theatrically and only made available in the US as a VHS release from Southgate Entertainment. Southgate offered "Terror At The Opera" in an R-rated version for Blockbuster Video and a "unrated" version that was the first truly uncut video release worldwide. In the United Kingdom, where the uncut version was released, the BBFC ordered 47 seconds of violence removed including shots of the little girl getting stabbed in the throat. These were restored in the 2002 DVD release. During a promotional screening at the Cannes Film Festival, several audience members criticized the poor quality of actor Urbano Barberini's voice. As such, his lines were re-dubbed prior to the film's English-language release.

The eponymous opera house is the Teatro Regio in Parma, Italy, one of the film's primary filming locations.[3]

Critical reception

Opera currently has an approval rating of 90% on movie review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 20 reviews, with an average rating of 7/10.[4] AllMovie called the film "a decent, fairly typical Argento film that is worth watching primarily for its above-average murder sequences."[5]


  1. Legare, Patrick. "Opera - Trailers, Reviews, Synopsis, Showtimes and Cast - AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
  2. "Opera (1987) - Box office / business". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 30 July 2012.
  3. "Dario Argento Makes his Opera Debut, Fittingly, with Verdi's Macbeth". typepad. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  4. "Opera (1987)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  5. Legare, Patrick. "Opera - Review - AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
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