Friday, July 01, 2011

film concert The Phantom of the Opera (1925) with Gabriel Thibaudeau and the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, soprano: Gerda Findeisen

The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin.

US © 1925 Universal. D: Rupert Julian. T. it.: Il fantasma dell’opera; Based on the novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra (1911) by Gaston Leroux; SC: Elliott J. Clawson, Raymond L. Schrock, Bernard McConville, Jasper Spearing, Richard Wallace, Walter Anthony, Tom Reed, Frank M. McCormack (non accred.); DP: Milton Bridenbecker, Virgil Miller, Charles Van Enger (non accred.); ED: Edward Curtiss, Maurice Pivar, Gilmore Walker (non accred.); M: Gustav Hinrichs; Ass. D: Joe Pasternak (non accred.);
    Cast: Lon Chaney (Erik, il fantasma), Mary Philbin (Christine Dace), Norman Kerry (Visconte Raoul de Chagny), Arthur Edmund Carewe (Ledoux), Gibson Gowland (Simon Buquet), John St. Polis (Conte Philip de Chagny), Snitz Edwards (Florine Papillon), Virginia Pearson (Carlotta), Edith Yorke (madame Valerius), Anton Vaverka, Bernard Siegel (Joseph Buguet), Olive Ann Alcorn (La Sorelli), Edward Cecil (Faust), Alexander Bevani (Mephistopheles), John Miljan (Valentin), Chester Conklin;
    P: Carl Laemmle per Universal Pictures; Pri. pro.: 6 settembre 1925. 35 mm. 2579 m. 93’. Col. English intertitles. Sous-titres français on the print. Electronic subtitles in Italian. From: Lobster Films.
    Piazza Maggiore, Bologna (Il Cinema Ritrovato), 1 July 2011.

Music composed by Gabriel Thibaudeau (1990). Conductor: Gabriel Thibaudeau. Performed by the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Soprano: Gerda Findeisen.

Catalogue: "When it was clear to Universal from critical and boxoffice reaction to The Hunchback of Notre Dame that in letting Chaney go to MGM they hade made a potentially disastrous decision, they negotiated with their erstwhile employee, Irving Thalberg, to borrow Chaney to star in a ten-reel version of Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera."

"The movie was made in 1925 and Universal spared no expense on the production, constructing the interior of the Paris Opera House as well as a maze of streets for the final chase and a labyrinth of catacombs to depict the phantom’s lair under the Opera House. Once more Chaney endured hellish pain to achieve his make-up, a living skull with sparse hair over a domed head, eyes bulging under the pressure of painfully inserted wires, cheekbones emphasized with celluloid discs and a mouth framed with jagged, bestial teeth. Little wonder that people collapsed in cinemas at the moment when, after an impeccably edited build-up which stretched tension almost breaking point, the heroine, Mary Philbin, tore off the phantom’s mask to reveal to herself and the audience, the horror that was Chaney’s face. Although much of the film appears overacted at this distance, and Miss Philbin less than effective, the shock points in the movie still retain all their original potency: the unmasking, the love scene played by hero and heroine on the roof of the Opera House while above them, his red-tinted cloak billowing like the wings of an angel from hell, the phantom listened; Chaney’s appearance at a masked ball, in the character of Death, made all the more effective by the early use of colour, with his red cloak contrasted against a predominantly green background; the crashing of the giant chandelier into the auditorium and the climactic chase through the sewers and streets of Paris, all these help to overcome with the genius of Chaney’s makeup and mime, the deficiencies of a story that at times verged upon the melodrama of Perils of Pauline (1914). Nominally directed by Rupert Julian, The Phantom of the Opera was completed by Edward Sedgwick after Julian had been removed from the film, and some scenes were directed by Chaney." (Alan Frank, Horror Films, Hamlyn, London-New York 1977).

"This score for The Phantom of the Opera was commissioned by La Cinémathèque Quebecoise in 1990. Only a few months after the première in Montreal, it was performed in Bologna. Since then, many orchestras have executed it – from Canada to the USA, from Europe to Japan – always with an enthusiastic response from the audience. The music is based on a four note theme: C-D-B-C. We can hear it throughout the score, which was inspired by Gounod with reminiscences of Stravinsky, Chopin and even Bach. A soprano sings arias from Gounod’s Faust, adding a dramatic touch. Note that the final aria is the main theme of the whole score; it was written (lyrics and music) by Gabriel Thibaudeau. After touring the world for more than twenty years, the music has finally come home again, where it received its first international recognition: Bologna!" (Gabriel Thibaudeau).

AA: Gabriel Thibaudeau's is one of the best silent film scores. My first acquaintance to it was via a friend (not a film expert): a treasure of her vhs collection was a tape of a Finnish telecast (1997 or 1998) of The Phantom of the Opera, and she was especially fond of the wonderful music.

The opera in the story is Charles Gounod's Faust (1859), and Gabriel Thibaudeau weaves many of its motifs in his score, such as the Faust waltz on the Walpurgis night bacchanal ("Ainsi que la brise légère") and Marguerite's jewel aria "Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir!"

My first childhood acquaintance with Gounod's Faust was in Hergé's album Les Bijoux de la Castafiore. Bianca Castafiore, "the nightingale of Milan", starts to sing the jewel aria in the car. The dashed line from Captain Haddock's eye leads to the car window, the brand of which is Securit. "Fortunately the windows are made of strong glass".

The coloratura soprano Gerda Findeisen brought a brilliant, lively element to the music experience. The organ is also a vital part of the music world of the story, and on the piazza it was apparently realized via a synthetizator. The programme note lists 53 musicians of L'Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, the instruments being violini di spalla, violini primi, violini secondi, viole, violoncelli, contrabbassi, flauti, oboi, clarinetti, fagotti, trombe, tromboni, timpani, percussioni, and sintetizzatore.

The music by Gabriel Thibaudeau and Charles Gounod is stronger than the film itself, directed in a neutral, workmanlike fashion but boasting a great macabre performance by Lon Chaney. The art direction by Ben Carré, Charles D. Hall, and Elmer Sheeley is masterful. The screenplay is also powerful, instantly introducing the contrast between the grand opera and the underground, the present and the past, das Über-Ich und das Es. There are at least five underground floors beneath the Opera, leading to old torture chambers and dungeons. Erik the Phantom, himself, is a victim of the persecution after the Second Revolution.

The Lobster Films print may not be the best that there is, but it has an interesting, consistent colour world. This was for me the best ever experience of The Phantom of the Opera.

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