CULTURE & ARTS
08/25/2015 09:07 am ET

Why A 'Beast Jesus' Opera Is The Best/Worst Idea Ever

The art world mistake-turned-miracle that just keeps on giving. #BeastJesus
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On Aug. 22, 2012, an elderly Spanish woman took it upon herself to give Jesus Christ a makeover.

Specifically, she attempted to restore Elías García Martínez's 1930 painted fresco "Ecce Homo," which hangs in a church in Borja, Spain. The 80-year-old vigilante restorer, named Cecilia Giménez, noticed that J.C. and his crown of thorns had cracked and crumbled into fresco devastation over the years and took it upon herself to touch up the image. No big deal.

Except that touching up frescoes is no simple task. A couple wrong brush strokes and suddenly the Good Shepherd bore a striking resemblance to an electrified spider monkey rocking Bob Ross' hairdo. And just like that, the art world's favorite accidental miracle/act of goodhearted vandalism/meme was born. He was dubbed Beast Jesus

News of the hilarious blunder spread quickly around the internet, and the love for Beast Jesus lured curious tourists to the small Spanish town, eventually resurrecting the floundering local economy. In the first year following the restoration, Borja drew 100,000 visitors and the church accepted 150,000 euros in donations.

Three years later, it looks like the art crowd still hasn't gotten over the joke. An opera called "Behold the Man" -- the English translation of "Ecce Homo" -- is now in the works, the brainchild of composer Paul Fowler and librettist Andrew Flack. 

Fowler and Flack have been working on their unconventional comic opera for three years now, weaving into the fold not only the events of that fateful night in 2012 but the viral commotion that followed, leading to an economic revival that lovers of Borja often refer to as a modern-day miracle. 

Both Flack and Fowler had long been hunting for a subject of a potential comic opera. When they heard of Cecilia's painted mishap and its unexpected repercussions, they knew they'd found that they were looking for. "For me, it’s a story of faith," FIack explained to The New York Times. "It’s a miracle how it has boosted tourism. Why are people coming to see it if it’s such a terrible work of art? It’s a pilgrimage of sorts, driven by the media into a phenomenon. God works in mysterious ways. Your disaster could be my miracle."

Andrew Flack

The opera opens with Cecilia at morning devotionals, recounting to her sister a dream in which she was divinely directed to restore "Ecce Homo." Soon, the mayor, the Borja townspeople, the priest, the media and the Internet at large are woven into the convoluted plot, communicated through a variety of musical styles both traditional and not so much. 

"Each character in our opera sings the music of their identity," Fowler explained in an email to The Huffington Post. "The churchgoers align with the sacred sounds of Gregorian chant, Bach and Mozart, the mayor sings the local music of Zaragosa, the richest woman in town adorns herself with bel canto and verismo, and our millennials sing over pop tunes. As the opera progresses and the Internet imposes itself on our sleepy town, the established styles bang against each other in a mashup with current trends."

The soundtrack is a collage of aural influences both old and new, featuring, as Fowler teased, a Gregorian chant, Spanish fandango, indie-rock hook, Swedish-house beats and a Baroque organ hymn, among other musical styles. One could argue that what Gimenez did to frescoes, Flack and Fowler do for opera -- not botching it, but bringing an old and oft-deemed archaic mode of artistic expression into contemporary relevance. 

As of now, Flack and Fowler have completed the libretto and score of the work and hope to perform the full piece for an audience in Borja in 2016 or 2017. "Borja has a longstanding tradition of opera, and a fine music academy, so we will be drawing locally and regionally for our singers and musicians," Flack told HuffPost. "It's my dream that 'Behold the Man' will serve as an additional economic engine for the town, further stimulating the economy."

Bless you, Beast Jesus. Bless you and your furry round head, your vacant, slanty-eyed expression, your strange smudge of a mouth. Bless your ghostly complexion and Voldemort-y nostrils, and that weird, unidentified scroll you're holding. Bless your uncanny ability to save a small Spanish town, inspire an unorthodox opera and keep the ever-so-stuffy art world laughing three years later. You truly are my favorite little divine Ewok. 

See a clip from the opera:

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