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The botched Jesus fresco gets the opera it deserves

The botched Jesus fresco gets the opera it deserves

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The life rights of Cecilia Giménez, the Spanish artist who notoriously botched an attempted restoration of Elías García Martínez's "Ecce Homo," should be a zillion dollars. In truth, I have no idea what the American songwriting duo Andrew Flack and Paul Fowler paid for them. Probably not enough, because this story is perfectly suited to be the best musical of all time!

The pair is currently working on a comic opera about Giménez's life and how the mistake that initially horrified her (and the internet) ended up saving her small town from an economic slump, The New York Times reports. The painting, which was mocked in memes, a Saturday Night Live segment, and with comparisons to the 1997 film Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie, became a tourist attraction that spurred a 1,000 percent increase in visits to the local medieval art museum and revitalized the town's restaurant business.

When the pair began work on the musical in 2014, Flack told the Times, "It's a story of faith. ... Why are people coming to see it if it is 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."

the story is full of dramatic tidbits

The real story is full of dramatic tidbits, like local wineries bickering over the right to display "Potato Jesus" on their wine labels. Also, the two-faced priest who initially threw Giménez under the bus by denying that he gave her permission to work on the fresco ended up banished from town — he was accused of embezzling 168,000 euros from the church.

Most compellingly, it seems as though the whole scandal occurred because photos of the fresco were released long before Giménez had finished her attempted restoration. Her other artwork is gorgeous! I can't wait to see how the fictional Giménez's heroic redemption plays out.

Arnau Bach / New York Times

When the news of the botch job broke in 2012, Giménez told The Times, "I felt devastated. They said it was a crazy, old woman who destroyed a portrait that was worth a lot of money." It's a great starting point for an opera, or a dramatic work of any kind — an artist with good intentions, working humbly outside the spotlight, is fatally misunderstood and thrust headfirst into the cruel world of Twitter commentary. And then, a redemption arc begins! I love it already.

i love it already

The composers say the music will be a blend of classic opera and contemporary pop, starting with an aria called "It's Faith That Guides My Brush" and transitioning into a Lady Gaga-inspired song called "Come Getcho Ecce." Fowler listed a slew of musical inspirations for The Times, including "a Gregorian chant, a Spanish fandango, a Renaissance motet, a jota from Zaragoza, a classical chorus, an aria from the Zarzuela, a Flamenco tango, an indie-rock hook and a Swedish-house baseline." The frenetic blending of genres will help set the tone for a foray into the wild world of the internet — what better way to soundtrack the story of a meme than with a hodge podge of cultural references?

The opera's first full production will take place next year, on the fifth anniversary of "Potato Jesus." If you can't see yourself making it to Spain, I highly recommend two adjacent American musicals: The Visit, a similarly structured story in which a crumbling town benefits from the fact that a billionaire will give them a lot of money to kill her ex-boyfriend, and Sunday in the Park with George, a musical about, in part, all the rude things people said about famed pointillist Georges Seurat behind his back.