Helnwein himself, it turns out, is serious, thoughtful, almost grave; his temperament and constant sunglasses suggest a Germanic Roy Orbison. He says he has no urge to shock, but he appears to find controversy sadly inevitable.
"Great music, amazing singers — for many opera fans that is enough," he says, sitting outside his studio in downtown L.A.'s artist district. "But I believe in the idea of Gesamtkunstwerke, the art that includes all art. And that means you have visual art, you have directing, you have choreography, and of course you have the music and the singing. What makes opera such an interesting art is that everything comes together."