BLACK LODGE (Opera Philadelphia): Beautiful, unsettling, and thrilling

If Black Lodge is any indication of what the afterlife has in store for us then I would encourage you all to repent immediately—that is, unless you like Naked Lunch inspired, heavy metal librettos. Set in a “nightmarish bardo” (a liminal zone between life and death), Black Lodge is a monstrous piece of theater/opera/film/just about everything else that all collides into one truly thrilling night at the opera … cinema … both. 

From the beastly clang that opens the show (which sent the gentle soul sitting next to me jumping out of their seat) to the cataclysmic climax, Black Lodge never releases you from its icy cold grip. There is so much to admire here that for the most part, I simply did not know what to look at—the headbanging glam-rock band, Timur and the Dime Museum, in full Antichrist Superstar-era Marilyn Manson garb, churning out riffs that would make James Hetfield blush; the equally ferocious Opera Philadelphia Orchestra buzzing away at their instruments providing the evening with a touch of epic flare (à la a Hans Zimmer soundtrack); or the full-on abstract film that was being projected on the screen behind them. 

In a production so packed to the hilt with highlights it’s hard to pick a stand-out, but I will anyway—it’s the music! Timur (who pulled double duty as lead singer of the Dime Museum and lead actor) led us all ecstatically through the haunted halls of the film aspect of the show, which seems to loosely approximate a personalized purgatory of famed beat writer William Burroughs (author of Naked Lunch, Junky, Queer).

The film felt a lot like watching a Tool music video; it was beautiful to look at, unsettling, and made absolutely no sense on a conscious level. It is enough to say that this element is simply about a man searching for forgiveness while mired in guilt, which in turn, is enough to anchor any viewer long enough to be able to settle in and appreciate the purely visual aspect of the film. I am sure that upon repeat viewings Black Lodge will reveal its many mysteries (what is the significance of the green apple!?). In this way it reminded me of a David Lynch film. 

And oh yeah, what about David Lynch? He was mentioned in the synopsis and the title of the production seems to be a nod to the great auteur’s landmark television series Twin Peaks. In fact, it seemed like David Lynch’s name was on everyone’s lips in the lobby of the Philadelphia Film Center before the show. However, aside from a severed ear (Blue Velvet) there is very little to tell in terms of the Lynchian. If you’re looking for an addendum to Twin Peaks, look elsewhere. Still, Black Lodge stands mightily upon its own merit without any help from Laura Palmer. 

Black Lodge will be streaming on the Opera Philadelphia Channel starting October 21, 2022.

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