“The Black Opera” is the final of three Opera IX records with Cadaveria in the vocal slot. Of these three it is the most conventionally symfo with lush gothic overtones. It is by far the most streamlined and concise in writing of the trilogy, on top of being the best produced. What Opera IX lost of its distinct Mediterranean character was complemented by its increased ability to write shorter, punchier songs. Benefitting from the symfo black metal explosion it was Opera IX’ breakthough album, but that success came at a price. As such “The Black Opera” is an eulogy to what could have been had the band not splintered into two factions.
“The Black Opera” delivers exactly what it promises being structured as an actual opera, consisting of six arias, or acts. The subtitle “Symphoniae Mysteriorum In Laudem Tenebrarum” translates to “Symphony in praise of the mysteries of the shadows”, concisely summarizing the lyrical direction of the record. Of the three it is the most focused on occultism, spirituality and esoterica. It more or less is a loosely conceptual record about spiritual awakening and liberating oneself from dogmas. Each song represents a seal that the listener must pass in order to reach enlightenment and to attain a higher state of consciousness.
The most interesting aspect of “The Black Opera” are its lyrics. Frontwoman Raffaela Rivarolo, who obviously has a personal interest in mythological – and occult subject matter, fuses together multiple religious pantheons through the easily recognizable literary convention of the monomyth, as described by author Joseph Campbell. Drawing mainly from Greek, Israelite and Egyptian belief systems the album’s central narrative is that of a hero’s journey in search of spiritual enlightenment. The artwork and photography by Alberto Maria Gotti puts more of a focus on frontwoman Raffaela Rivarolo than prior efforts. Foreshadowing Rivarolo’s future solo career in the industrial metal subgenre the album includes ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’, a cover of British post-punk and later gothic rock band Bauhaus.
‘Act I: The First Seal’ functions as a general outline of the album’s concept, and ‘Act II: Beyond the Black Diamond Gates’ represents the summoning ritual that sets the listener-character on its spiritual journey. ‘Act III: Carnal Delight in the Vortex Of Evil’ has the protagonist describing the arch-nemesis. ‘Act IV: Congressus Cum Daemone’ invokes the wind gods from Greek mythology. ‘Act V: The Magic Temple’ is sung in the band's native Italian. ‘Act VI: The Sixth Seal’ contains multiple invocations from the Thelemic Bornless Ritual, including the line “Asar Lin-Nefer”, a variation of "Asar-un-Nefer" ("Myself Made Perfect"), an epithet of the Egyptian god Osiris.
“The Black Opera” is more streamlined and concise in its songwriting. As a result its the least adventurous of the Cadaveria trilogy as it has none of the Mediterranean character and ethnic spirit that made the preceding two record so unique. Only a few tracks reach the band’s usually bloated song lengths, and on its face it sounds like a Dimmu Borgir record of the day. Unlike their Norwegian contemporaries Opera IX write incredibly varied songs that are majestic and aggresive in equal measure. In its defense, Rivarolo delivers her most sensual, passionate and serpentine performance on this third album in what would be her swansong with the band she helped popularize.
With the proper support of a mid-level label behind them Opera IX was given the opportunity to record in a facility outside of their native Italy. “The Black Opera” was recorded at Studio Underground in Västerås, Sweden with Pelle Saether producing. In adapting itself to the expectations of the industry Opera IX won in polish and sheen but lost part of what made its prior records so appealing. “The Black Opera”, for the lack of a better description, sounds as a Scandinavian record. It has none of the Mediterreanean warmth that graced this band’s earlier records. “The Black Opera” is as elegant as before but the standard metal production robs it of much of its spirit.
“The Black Opera” was released on AvantGarde Music in 2000, in November of the same year the label would release “Thelema.6”, the album that broke Polish death/black metal unit Behemoth to a wider audience. “The Black Opera” sold approximately 18,000 copies, and Opera IX was poised for stardom. Raffaela Rivarolo (vocals), and Alberto Gaggiotti (drums) acrimoniously split from the band due to creative differences and interpersonal tensions. Both parties carried on in their own respective projects, and Opera IX lost much of its cross-market appeal and scene visibility due to the leaving of its beloved frontwoman. Rivarolo and Gaggiotti would continue working together in different bands but neither of those units experienced the kind of exposure they had at the very heights of Opera IX’ success. Opera IX would continue releasing albums on a variety of labels and with revolving lineups.