Spanish widow who botched fresco makeover inspires opera


When an elderly widow in a tiny Spanish town decided to restore a church fresco of Christ, the result was so disastrous that it went viral and she became a global laughing stock.

Fast-forward a few years, and the tables have turned considerably for Cecilia Gimenez, now 85, whose “restoration” in Borja resembles a pale-faced ape with cartoon-style eyes and a crooked smudge for a mouth.

Her makeover has sparked such interest that people are flocking to the northern town, mugs and t-shirts bearing the botched image are on sale and the incident has inspired an opera — excerpts of which will be performed for the first time in Borja on Saturday.

“It’s a hybrid, it has music from Bach, Gregorian chants, and then it has some numbers that sound like Lady Gaga or Frank Sinatra,” says Andrew Flack, the American playwright who wrote the opera along with composer Paul Fowler.

The two friends saw the story go viral in August 2012 and decided there and then to create an opera called “Behold the Man”, the English translation of the words reportedly shouted by Roman governor Pontius Pilate to Jesus Christ shortly before his Crucifixion.

The Latin version of these words, “Ecce Homo”, is the title of numerous works of art including that of the fresco in Borja, originally painted in 1930.

“I could see that she was going to go from a villain to the hero,” says Flack.