Berklee Silent Film Orchestra Performs Its Score to The Phantom of the Opera
The Berklee Silent Film Orchestra (BSFO) will perform its powerhouse score with the definitive, digital restoration of The Phantom of the Opera on Thursday, December 12, at 7:30 p.m., at Avon Cinema in Providence, Rhode Island; and on Saturday, December 14, at 8:00 p.m. at the Cabot in Beverly, Massachusetts. The Avon performance will follow by a week the BSFO’s North American premiere of this new pairing, live at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
Directed by Rupert Julian, The Phantom of the Opera (1925) stars Lon Chaney, Hollywood’s “man of 1,000 faces,” as Erik, the horribly disfigured phantom who leads a menacing existence in the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera House. When Erik falls in love with a beautiful prima donna, the master musician kidnaps her and holds her hostage in his lair. One of the most discussed—and unnerving—films of all time, Phantom gets a turbo-charged new life from the 12-member BSFO’s spectacular, modern score.
Described as “nothing short of thrilling” by American film critic Leonard Maltin, the BSFO is dedicated to composing new, original scores for silent feature classics, and performing them live to picture. Based at Berklee, in the world’s first undergraduate degree program in film scoring, the student orchestra composes its new works and performs as an ensemble, under the leadership of Sheldon Mirowitz (Outside Providence, Missing in America), a professor in Berklee's Film Scoring Department.
Previous screenings of Phantom with the BSFO score, while a huge crowd favorite, have been done to the well-known and famously murky versions of the film. At last, the Berklee score, featuring a bravura soprano vocalist singing the movie’s operatic solos in-sync with the screen, can be heard with the meticulously restored film.
This newest print was constructed by Kino Lorber producer Bret Wood from silent film icon David Shepard’s definitive digital restoration. This print is a revelation in its clarity, and includes the legendary Technicolor costume ball scene at the correct 20-frames-per-second projection speed.
To date, the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra has scored and performed their music for 15 iconic silent films. The majority of these works have been created with the support of the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s Sounds of Silents program. The Sounds of Silents was launched in 2007 with a mission to present classic silent cinema on the big screen, in the Coolidge and beyond, accompanied by a live original score performed by outstanding musicians.
The indispensable San Francisco Silent Film Festival and leading silent film studio Kino Lorber International have also been instrumental in premieres and reissues of films with new BSFO scores. In 2017, Universal Pictures commissioned the BSFO to write and record a new score for the restoration of their silent classic The Man Who Laughs. This is believed to be the first time in film history that a major American studio has commissioned a score from a college ensemble.
In addition to Rupert Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera, the BSFO has scored and performed music for F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise, Faust, and The Last Laugh; Clarence Badger’s It; Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin; Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality; E. A. Dupont’s Piccadilly and Varieté; Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! and The Freshman; Lois Weber's Suspense and The Rosary; Carl Laemmle’s The Man Who Laughs; and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.
In October 2015, the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, under the baton of maestro Keith Lockhart, performed a new score to F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu written and orchestrated by Mirowitz and his BSFO composers. The silent film concert, the first ever performed in historic Boston Symphony Hall, played to a sold-out house and a four-minute standing ovation.
The recipient of two special commendations from the Boston Society of Film Critics, the BSFO has performed to wide acclaim at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the Nantucket Film Festival, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., the Tony Bennett Concert Hall in New York City, and a half dozen other major film and performing arts venues.