"THE FLY," Los Angeles Opera, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, Calif., through Sept. 27 (www.losangelesopera.com)

It's not often people will pay $200 a ticket to watch Placido Domingo keep his mouth closed, but that's the case with "The Fly," an opera creating a good deal of buzz at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

Domingo directs the orchestra for this one. But his role is just one of the many sides to the story that make "The Fly" an event.

The opera is based on the old Vincent Price movie about a man who gets his molecules mixed up with the molecules of a wayward fly and becomes part man, part insect (the story itself originally was a piece of fiction in Playboy magazine). Director David Cronenberg did a remake of the film in 1986, with Jeff Goldblum doing the insect honors. Now Cronenberg has brought his cinematic sensibilities to the opera house.

Music is by Howard Shore — a well-known name in movies — with a libretto by the distinguished playwright, David Henry Wang ("M Butterfly").

What emerges from all this cross-breeding is an opera that, in its best moments, has all the power of cinema, theater and popular music packed into a single punch. At its worst, the whole enterprise becomes a hodgepodge.

Like the title character, the opera seems to be part one thing and part another. The arias are soaring, though no gondolier will be humming them to tourists. This is modern music at its most modern. The libretto is cheeky and wry, though sorting the tongue-in-cheek lines from the serious moments is tough.

For the stage, Cronenberg turns the hero here, Seth, into more than a man who gains physical power. He gains sexual power as well. And the simulated sex scenes, male frontal nudity and other aspects appear to have been taken straight from the playbook of modern American movie making. Wang's libretto is by turns poetic and quirky. Campy lines such as, "Seth, I can't live on sex and candy bars" and "I can't celebrate tonight, there's an old life I have to scrape off my shoe," strike the ear oddly. True pathos is in short supply. What's important to the creators are the themes of identity, the dangers of playing God and other concerns of the 21st century.

As for Shore's music, he's gone back to the 1950s for inspiration. But before tuning in expecting to hear Buddy Holly, Shore is talking about 1950s progressive jazz and avant garde classical.

Cronenberg set the opera in the 1950s, when fears of nuclear disaster and science were running amok. Dante Ferretti, of "Sweeney Todd" fame, nails the costumes. The sets are spare and solid. And, in a tip of the hat to the stage spectacle, acrobats and puppeteers also get involved.

As Seth Brundle, Daniel Okulitch holds his own. And Ruxandra Donose, as his love interest Veronica, is winsome and appealing with a powerful soprano.

Still, it seemed as if the audience was trying very hard to enjoy the production, without much luck. There were more than a few seats vacated after intermission.

In short, anyone who goes to "The Fly" expecting to see where opera and modern Hollywood meet will be disappointed. This is an opera that has "cult classic" written all over it.

"The Fly" closes Sept. 27.


E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com