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The Phantom of the Opera

Richard Todd, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: October 27, 2007

The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney is possibly the most famous of silent films, better known, at least by reputation, than any of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton's superb comedies.

Based on a novel by the otherwise obscure Gaston Leroux, the 1925 production was the first and easily the best of several films that would eventually bear its title, each more cheesy than the last, it seems. Only the mega-musical from the 1980s is of similar merit to the Chaney film, and that in a very different way.

The Seventeen Voyce's founder and director, Kevin Reeves, is also a filmmaker and has displayed a keen appreciation of the silent movies.

Two or three years ago he and his chorus, along with organist Matthew Larkin, provided a musical accompaniment to Theodore Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc. It is widely considered the greatest of the silent films and, indeed, among the finest of all films. The presentation was a sensational success. Last year the same forces did the same thing for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, another Chaney film.

If this year's film, Phantom, is of lesser stature than Joan of Arc, it is surely a masterpiece of its own genre. It is easy to snicker at the broad acting, the old-fashioned production values and the gaping holes in the plot -- easy for the first 20 minutes or so. But then it grabs you and doesn't let you go.

The Phantom, Erik, was not intended as a sympathetic character and indeed he is terribly grotesque. But modern sensibilities are likely to cut him a little slack. He was, after all the victim of hideous torture and is only looking for a little love. Well, okay, a little slack.

Chaney's portrayal is magnificent in its over-the-top way and the Seventeen Voyces sang beautifully, if not very much. The real star of the evening was organist Larkin who played almost continuously. The "soundtrack" consisted of a dozen or so operatic and art-song numbers connected by Larkin's surpassingly effective improvisations.

The music was selected and performed for an optimum combination of exaggerated melodrama, suspense and pathos. The artistic collaboration between Larkin, Reeves and the Voyces on the one hand and the long-departed personalities who created the film could hardly have been more effective.

The presentation will be repeated tonight at St. Matthew's Church in the Glebe.



 

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