Thursday, 12 October 2017

Review The Phantom Of The Opera

The world  première of a magnificent orchestral silent movie score in a palatial venue gives Peter Barker a thrilling experience,

The Phantom Of The Opera
Roy Budd's score to the 1925 classic silent film

The Sound Of Silence

The French Gothic novel The Phantom of the Opera, first published as a newspaper serial in 1909, has since the late 20th century gained fame in a modern global blockbuster musical adaptation.

However, the first dramatised version to reach a mass audience was over 80 years ago, a classic Hollywood silent horror movie starring Lon Chaney, legendary actor and "man of a thousand faces".

Years later in South London, a young Roy Budd, the son of a grocer, developed a love for silent movies and haboured a dream all his life of scoring the Universal Pictures cult horror film.
Now the 77-strong Docklands Sinfonia, led by conductor Spencer Down, has finally given the piece its world première during a screening at, fittingly, the exquisite opera venue, the London Coliseum.

For Budd was a musical child prodigy who gave his first official concert aged six at the opera house in 1953.

He became a leading jazz musician, a friend of fellow musician and comedian Dudley Moore,  and composed the music, often jazz-inflected, for around forty films, most famously the iconic harpsichord score for British gangster film, Get Carter, starring Michael Caine.

After purchasing an original 35mm print of The Phantom Of The Opera and having it restored for £350,000 over the course of three years, he finally achieved his dream, creating an orchestral score for the movie.

The world première was scheduled for September 1993 but just five weeks beforehand, Budd suffered a fatal brain haemorrhage.

His widow, landed with the bill for the cancelled concert screening, then saw others perform their own scores for the film.

While Budd's was the first of several modern symphonic Phantom Of The Opera scores by various composers, like the phantom it has been a ghostly presence, only released on CD and DVD many years after it was composed and, until now, never performed live publicly.

A melodically lush and romantic score mirrors and adds to a movie, as much a love story as a horror film and a suspenseful thriller.

Budd uses a rich and varied orchestral palette for a lucid accompaniment to the Beauty and the Beast story.

Keeping a precise balance between pathos and horror, the music often reflects the viewpoint of the Phantom, his longing and torment over young soprano Christine (Mary Philbin).

Lon Chaney’s performance as the Phantom, with the unmasking of his monstrous features, still stands the test of time, especially when accompanied by Budd's visceral music.
The notes of an organ, used in various ways throughout the film, evoke the uncanny atmosphere and introduce the sweeping aural panorama of the Phantom theme.

Equally, grace, suspense and humour where appropriate find their way into the music.

There's the exquisitely affecting Lovers' Waltz for Christine and her love Raoul (Norman Kerry), alongside the gorgeously elegant Masked Ball, in a colourised segment, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque Of The Red Death

The composer  seamlessly integrates the themes of each individual, bringing them  together in a full-bodied score for the melodrama. The unfussy orchestration creates a backdrop of sound and musical characterisation that is both atmospheric and majestic.

Settling down after a slightly shaky start, The Docklands Sinfonia delivered a memorable and taut rendition of this piece.

Musically referencing several sources, Budd draws upon, amongst others, Richard Wagner’s opera of a doomed love affair, Tristan und Isolde, as well as the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and JS Bach.

These musical styles suit Budd's own eclectic jazz background, forming a tribute to classical composers, but also transforming into a classical work in its own right.

The logic of the melodramatic story may sometimes leave something to be desired for 21st century tastes. Yet the force of the movie's iconic imagery, with camerawork by Milton Bridenbecker, Virgil Miller, Charles Van Enger, fills the screen and mind: The Phantom's mask; the vulnerable horrific face beneath (skilfully made up by Lon Chaney himself) and  the Phantom's underground lair.

This was a one-off performance, mounted as a result of Roy Budd's widow Sylvia Noel's tireless work over very many years, first to have the music released on CD and in a DVD movie version and, finally, to be given its live première.

Combining a glorious concert of a nuanced score with the screening of a sensational movie classic could work well in other venues. On the strength of this performance in the lavish opera surroundings of the London Coliseum, it is a well-deserved TLT green light.

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