It says an awful lot about the punnery of The Real Ghostbusters episode titles that ‘A Fright at the Opera’ isn’t even the worst the series has to offer. I’ve seen worse. An episode of Count Duckula also used this as the title for one its episodes. Great minds think alike. As for the quality of this actual episode? Well, it’s a good one. A middle-weight one. A bloody nightmare if you can’t stand opera singing, mind you.
Before I get into the episode proper though, a little diversion. When I was younger, one of my most prized possessions was my Panini Real Ghostbusters sticker album, a thing of colourful beauty that I just have to think about and I get all dewy-eyed. The album focused on about six or so episodes, telling each story with text but given extra oomph by all the stills you had to collect. What was it, 25p for a pack of six stickers? Sticker albums were a regular drain on a child’s pocket money, and there was always a new album released every few months to tempt me. Bizarrely, given my total apathy towards football, the earliest sticker album I can remember owning was the one for the 1986 Mexico World Cup. Other favourites included Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, Thundercats and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? With the Ghostbusters one, sometimes the stickers would be portrait sized, sometimes landscape, sometimes they’d only feature half of a picture, sometimes a quarter, sometimes it would be just a cut out of a character that you’d have to place on the existing picture with skilful precision and best of all, there were the holo-stickers, aka the ‘shinies’, the one’s that emitted lovely spectral colours when you tilted them. Beautiful! ‘A Fright at the Opera’ was one of the featured stories in this album, and as such I became familiar with the truncated sticker version of the story as well as the full-length episode itself.
So, opera music. Is it your thing? No? Well you shouldn’t bemoan the Ghostbusters for trying to broaden their cultural horizons, even though two of them aren’t present in this opening sequence and Peter has only agreed to come along because he thought he was going to a baseball game. His attire is totally inappropriate for the night’s entertainment, whereas Egon, the legit opera afficiando, is very smartly suited in a tux. The night’s music comes courtesy of Wagner, whose Ride of the Valkyries will be heard at least three thousand times in this episode. I guess it’s in the public domain so that they can use it as much as they can. You know this piece – think Apocalpyse Now, the smell of napalm in the morning, that sort of thing. The performance has begun, and the singing commences – now I like classical music and am continuing to explore its avenues, but opera singing is one side street I haven’t ventured down yet – mainly because it gets on my nerves, so having ‘The Diva’ stretch her soprano vocal chords in front of an almost entirely rapturous audience is something of an ordeal. Egon however is totally smitten. Peter, amazingly, has managed to fall asleep, as has the bloke sitting in the row behind him. A round of applause does wake Peter however, after which he shouts out loudly for a pack of peanuts. Now I know he didn’t know what he was in for, and that he couldn’t help but fall asleep because he was so bored, but shouting out for treats is just rude. Also bored is our exceptionally snooty looking conductor – his name is Leopold – who yawns during the performance, much to the annoyance of the Diva. Unsure of what to do next, Peter asks Egon what a Valkyrie looks like. I mean, does it at all resemble a ‘supernatural fat lady on horseback’? Uh-oh. One look up and we can see the opera house is now swarming with the things, their opera-tinged wailing enough to drive anyone insane.
Peter failed to mention that they also all have deadly swords. No one is perforated during this performance, though one of the Valkyries does cut the ropes to a chunky piece of stage scenery, which would have crushed the Diva had Peter not slammed into her to push her out of the way. Egon did his best to save her too, but he collided into someone else and landed in a drum in the process. It’s a good opportunity to see how fragile Egon’s carefully curled locks are – just one smash and it looks like a surfer’s wave.
Now we get to really meet the Diva, a particularly obnoxious spoiled brat of a singer who doesn’t even bother to take proactive action during all that earlier chaos and you know, get out of the way, and then gives Leopold the conductor and Metzenbaum the owner a right telling-off for not saving her. Obviously there’s danger afoot at the opera house, so Peter offers the service of the Ghostbusters, a service that art lover Egon offers for free, much to Peter’s horror (‘fr-e-eeee? I can’t even say it!’). Why pro bono? Because you can’t put a price on art. I am usually shocked by the mercenary attitudes of the Ghostbusters (Peter in particular), but if there’s one gig that should see money upfront, it’s this bunch of stuck-up gits. Leopold doesn’t appear remotely grateful for this free service, the bounder.
The next morning, Winston acts as the viewer and demands to know what a Valkyrie’s all about. Well, they derive from Norse mythology, awaken to the sound of ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ and are most keen on abudcting a ‘hero’ so that they can taken him or her to Valhalla, which is kind of a Viking Heaven. Winston also wants to know if they’re going to meet the Phantom of the Opera, but that’s not the source material this episode’s about. Egon tries to suit up in a white tuxedo but is shot down by the other guys. It’s a shame, because he looks pretty good in his get-up.
On the way to the opera house, Egon warns the others that the Diva is an artist and artists aren’t like ordinary people. Yeah, Peter admits – they have louder voices. We visit the Diva’s dressing room, where our artist is being waited on hand and foot and she’s got a bigger ego problem than Justin Bieber, knocking chocolates out of poor underlings hands and throwing hissy fits. At the moment Peter is her boyfriend du jour, and demands he serve as he bodyguard, ignoring Egon’s legitimate interest in her artistry and requests to talk shop about Puccini, the poor guy. Leopold acts like a git and demand the life-saving Ghostbusters don’t interfere with his rehearsals. Oh, sorry mate.
So while Peter stays with the Diva, the other three go Valkyrie-hunting. Winston talks to a stagehand and is informed that the Phantom of the Opera really does exist! Egon gets all snooty and dismisses such claptrap, which he has a tendency to do towards things he personally has no knowledge about. He said no one could move a lake in the last episode, and it turned out you could. I’m going ahead and spoiling the revelation that yes, the Phantom does exist in this episode, so stuff it, Egon. The guys pursuit of the Valkyries spectral signal leads them further up and up the levels of the building until they emerge on the roof, a nicely calming sequence (complete with the series most serene theme tune) that means chaos is just around the corner. I like the bit when Ray peeks out of the manhole cover to the roof and sees nothing but blinding daylight and some harmless pigeons.
Meanwhile, Leopold is trying to rehearse but can’t do it because the French horn is rubbish. We get a snatch of Rossini’s ‘William Tell Overture’ to break up the Wagner monotony, and all the while Peter is being fanned by the Diva (‘that must have been a big bird’, he says of the enormous feather) who sums up our guy best of all with ‘your vulgarity…fascinates me’. Up on the roof, the guys have to climb a ladder to ascend to an even higher roof, and this is when the Valkyries make a reappearance, wailing as they do so – there’s much blasting and zapping, but to avail, as one of the Valkryies cuts the ladder with her sword (her half-singing/half-laughing voice afterwards is essentially conveying the expresion ‘haw-haw!’), leading to one hell of a cliffhanger as the guys start to fall backwards, clutching onto the rungs for dear life. The ladder hasn’t quite broken yet, so Egon thinks they can get out of this as long as they ‘don’t even breathe’, but snap goes the metal and down they start to go. This is one of the only (maybe the only) episode to ends its act break without music. All we get are the guys panicked yelps as we get a terrific fade-out shot of them falling backwards.
Fade back-in and the guys are still falling, but luckily the other end of the ladder lands on the edge of the opposite building, so everyone’s alright. Interestingly the music over this sequence is from Ghostbusters houseband Tahiti, and their soft-pop acts as a counterpoint to the music of Wagner and Rossini. High art and low art, juxtaposed. Italian director Dario Argento would do the same sort of thing the following year with his film Opera, mixing Verdi with thrashy speed-metal. I think Argento was making some kind point with his musical contrasts however. Here, it’s because the producers love to get Tahiti on the soundtrack at any conceivable moment. More power to them. The Valkyries are mucking about, waving their swords and shrieking but not really doing anything legitimately dangerous, so the guys have plenty of time to work their way underneath the ladder to safety. One of the Valkyries appears to be dealt with, but in reality she’s merely been condensed to pancake size, a situation remedied when one of her mates brushes past. Then they all fly into a pipe leading to the boiler room, so it’s down the basement the guys go. Hey, that’s where the Phantom is meant to be, Winston excitedly exclaims. The other two give him evils. Now even Ray is on the anti-Phantom bandwagon.
Down below, we get a howling error in the form of Winston speaking with Egon’s voice. Whoops, best move on to the dressing room, where Peter and the Diva’s adoring looks at each other seems to suggest that love is in the air. Hoping that we’ve forgot the recent goof, we’re back to the basement for some ‘it’s quiet…too quiet‘ banter before the Valkyries attack again, leading to a chaotic action sequence where Leopold is interrupted from haranguing his orchestra by being sent down to the basement on his movable platform, on which the guys emerge upwards to try and save the day. This sequence makes little sense as Leopold seems to disappear from the platform in record time, but it doesn’t matter as there’s some good little moments as the Valkyries fly through various instruments, even making a rather pleasant sound as one of them flies through a harp. They escape however, so all that can be done is to cancel the evening’s performance (strangely enough, attended by the exact same audience as last night’s – textbook cheapo animation there!) as another performance of Wagner might result in a repeat of last night’s horrors. Leopold goes nuts, saying he’s never missed out on a performance in all his twenty years of tyranny. He storms into the Diva’s dressing room demanding that the Ghostbusters, including Peter, be ejected from the premises. Either they go, or he goes. Peter’s wondering what all the fuss is about, and this is when the evil Diva reveals that she was only using him to make Leopold jealous, and only an idiot would have failed to realise that someone of her high status could never be interested in someone like him. Full credit to Peter, he takes all of this sudden rejection remarkably well. Meanwhile Leopold takes his position at the conductor’s stand, his orchestra clearly concerned for his temperament – it looks as though they really love him, even though he’s a monster. Back upstairs, Egon comes up with his ‘artists are sensitive people’ spiel because he obviously loves the Diva so much, and as she emerges from her quarters like a trooper to brave the Valkyries and the night’s performance, Peter spoils things a little by protesting too much that he knew her game all along. He doesn’t need her, he’s a national hero! Hero? Hero! Uh-oh. Remember what Ray said earlier about the Valkyries wanting to take a hero to Valhalla? They appear and snatch Peter, so the guys desperately close off all the exits to the building to block their escape.
The performance commences, while all the time the guys are desperately trying to blast the Valkyries, and such is the egotism of the Diva that she thinks she’s the one responsible for these mysterious laser beams all around her, as if her performance was that powerful. This encourages her to sing even louder, and meanwhile a trap is set on the ceiling to catch the Valkyries as they try to escape from the building. This works and they all get sucked in, but since traps seems to have no effect on humans, Peter is left suspended in mid-air for a second with no one to hold him. He falls to his death, and that’s the end of the episode.
Not really. He grabs a rope and slowly lowers himself to safety as the performance reaches an end. In an act of true sportsmanship, Peter forgoes his earlier drama with the Diva and beckons the audience to put their hands together for her performance. Metzenbaum the owner can’t begin to thank the Ghostbusters for their services….so he doesn’t. What a git! Remind me never to buy season tickets, Ray quite rightfully complains. Remember, none of them are getting paid for this gig. Leopold and the Diva take their bow before the audience, and Egon applauds them, commenting that they deserve each other. Too right they do. In the midst of all this madness, the Phantom of the Opera emerges from beneath the boards and complains about all the racket. They can keep the opera, he shouts as he grumbles off. Poor guy.