By Clare Jackson
Ottawa’s premier chamber choir, Seventeen Voyces, will continue its two-decade-long tradition of screening silent films alongside exhilarating choral and organ music on October 20 and 21 with a presentation of the 1925 silent film The Phantom of the Opera.
Just in time for Halloween, this horror film classic will be projected onto a large screen while the choir, conducted by founder and director Kevin Reeves, along with organist Matthew Larkin, will bring the scenes to life with a perfectly timed selection of classical and modern music. Choral works will include the searing “Messe solennelle” by Jean Langlais, as well as pieces by fellow French composers Berlioz, Ravel and Poulenc. Selections from Gounod’s Faust – an opera that plays a pivotal role in the plot of the film – and from Beethoven’s only opera Fidelio will also be featured. Larkin, a marvel at improvisation and a fellow of the Royal Canadian College of Organists, will provide incidental music throughout the film, offering seamless transitions between choral pieces.
The Phantom of the Opera is set in 19th-century Paris in the Palais Garnier Opera House. It tells the story of a mysterious “Opera Ghost,” a musical genius who will do anything to assure the stardom of his beloved protégé, the budding opera singer Christine Daaé.
The film is based on Gaston Leroux’s novel of the same name that was originally published in serialized form in newspapers before being released as a book in 1910. Some elements of the novel’s gothic plotline were inspired by actual events at the Paris opera house, including rumours that the Palais Garnier was haunted. The enormous underground “lake” beneath the opera house, which features prominently in both the novel and film and acts as the Phantom’s sinister lair, is in fact a huge reservoir that does sit beneath the Palais Garnier. The dramatic scene in which a huge chandelier crashes into the opera house’s audience during a performance was inspired by a similar accident when a fire in the roof melted a wire that held a counterbalance for a chandelier, resulting in the tragic crash that killed one person and injured several others.
The Phantom of the Opera has been adapted many times, including the 1986 mega-musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The 1925 film to be shown at the Seventeen Voyces screening stars Lon Chaney in perhaps his most famous performance. Chaney’s ability to transform his face and body through makeup and physical appliances earned him the famous moniker “The Man of a Thousand Faces.” His makeup artistry was so effective that in some films he was able to play two different characters because the audience didn’t recognize him.
Chaney’s two most successful dramatic roles both involved skillful and inventive makeup design. In the 1924 silent film The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Chaney closely followed novelist Victor Hugo’s description of his tragic main character – he wore a 32-kilogram rubber hump that was attached to his back by a leather harness that prevented him from standing upright. For his role as the menacing Phantom of the Opera, Chaney focused his makeup artistry on achieving a simulation of a “death’s head.” He did this with a combination of grease paint, a built-up head piece and taped-back ears, wires to create the uptilted nose and a jagged denture appliance. When the film originally premiered, there are reports that audiences screamed and fainted when Chaney’s skull-like face was finally revealed to a horrified Christine (played by Mary Philbin).
This film and concert will be presented on Friday, October 20 and Saturday, October 21 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Matthew’s Church (217 First Avenue). Tickets are $30 each, $20 for students. Tickets can be purchased online at www.seventeenvoyces.ca or at the door (cash, credit and debit accepted).
Audiences can also mark their calendars for Seventeen Voyces’ Christmas concert, which will be held on Saturday, December 16 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church and Sunday, December 17 at 4 p.m. at St. Bartholomew’s Church (125 MacKay Street). The concert will feature Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols with Lucile Hildesheim on the harp.
Clare Jackson is a long-time member of the Seventeen Voyces choir.