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Operatic Hollywood Horror via Mirowitz


Berklee Silent Film Orchestra (BSFO) will perform its powerhouse score to the definitive, digital restoration of the 1925 silent movie The Phantom of the Opera at The Cabot in Beverly on Saturday, December 14, at 7:30 pm, following by a week its West-Coast premiere of this new pairing live at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival Day of Silents.  

BSFO’s director Sheldon Mirowitz assigned a “reel” of the movie to each of seven of his top students after creating themes and motifs for characters and situations which all the composers will employ. In the new score, a soprano will sing Marguerite’s “Ballad” from Gounod’s Faust in direct sync with actress in the film; the “Jewel Song” as well as other portions of the opera will resound at the appropriate moments on the stage of the Paris Opera. Mirowitz’s breakthrough concept of letting the silent faces speak and sing led to the acclaimed BFSO scoring of Dreyer’s Passion of Jeanne d’Arc, which BMInt reviewed and discussed at length HERE and HERE. Imagine hiring lipreaders to transcribe the actors’ French, German, and Latin.

For tickets to see and hear Phantom in the beautiful, jazz-age Cabot click HERE.

Directed by Rupert Julian, The Phantom of the Opera 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 turbocharged, new life from the 12-member Berklee Silent Film Orchestra’s spectacular, modern score. Click HERE to see a short clip from a version Mirowitz (and BSFO alumni Eren Başbuğ) directed last year in Istanbul, Turkey with a local orchestra.

KINO/Lorber Films producer Bret Wood created a new BluRay version from silent film icon David Shepard’s definitive film restoration. To those who have not seen the Sheppard 35mm print, this BluRay version 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. 

Mirowitz feels strongly that silent film music should underline the emotions of that almost operatic genre without taking pride of place from the actors and directors.

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 university-based ensemble.

The BSFO has scored and performed music for the following films:  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; Rupert Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera; Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last!, and The FreshmanSuspense, and The Rosary, by Lois Weber; 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 Prof. Mirowitz and his BSFO composers. The silent film concert in historic Boston Symphony Hall to a sold-out house, and a thunderous, four-minute standing ovation, recalled some important examples of the genre in the Hall beginning with Geraldine Farrar appearing live with members of the BSO accompanying DeMille’s Carmen of 1915.

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 Theater in New York City, and a half dozen other major film and performing arts venues. 

Mirowitz’s catalog includes scoring for the films, Outside Providence (Miramax), Legacy (HBO Films), and Troublesome Creek (Artistic License, Academy Award nominee), as well as the television scores the three-part PBS miniseries Odyssey of Life (Peabody Award winner) and the HBO/Cinemax TV film Always a Bridesmaid.

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  1. Thanks for the advance word I just saw right now at 1:36am 11/24. But I do recommend people read the original novel by Gaston Leroux; its plot is a bit different from the movie and musical versions and it’s good. A bit fantastical and implausible but things are better explained and understood–Erik the Opera Ghost was one of the contractors for the construction of the Paris Opera in Leroux’ story. Read it!

    Comment by Nathan Redshield — November 24, 2019 at 1:46 am

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