Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra accompanies Phantom of the Opera screening

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra performed “The Phantom of The Opera,” on Friday Oct. 31 and Saturday Nov. 1 in Kodak Hall at the Eastman Theatre in Rochester. The play accompanied the 1925 silent film adaptation of the 1910 novel upon which the musical is based. Guest conductor Donald Hunsberger led the orchestra as the film played. According to Hunsberger, silent films were never really “silent.” From solo performers or chamber-sized ensembles performing on movie sets to establish proper moods for the actors, to musicians performing in theater pits throughout the country, silent films always had music as an integral part of their presentation.

Hunsberger created a “cue sheet” to compile the accompaniment for this program. Titles, scenes, emotional content, action and further information from the film were provided for the performers to assist them in selecting proper music to reflect the pathos, intensity and movement of each of the film’s sections. Principal percussion of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and adjunct professor of music at Geneseo Jim Tiller emphasized before the concert to remember to enjoy the music along with the film.

A musical identity scoring system was employed to provide the audience with a musical background coupled with screen action and development. The musical accompaniment played a vital part in the presentation; underscoring the visual with the aural.

Working with the Film Division of the George Eastman House since 1980, Hunsberger has created and conducted performances of orchestral accompaniments to over 18 silent films. He has also conducted performances with 45 orchestras both in the United States and Canada. He is currently professor emeritus of conducting and ensembles and conductor emeritus of the Eastman Wind Ensemble at the Eastman School of Music, having served as its music director from 1965 to 2001.

Although the live accompaniment worked well, the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera was a little antiquated for the modern audience. Perhaps because the film was originally too frightening for mid-1920s movie audiences; it was re-shot and comedic scenes were added. Unlike the 2004 version, the 1925 film does not have a sense of love or any room for sympathy for the Phantom; just madness and the Phantom’s maniacal desire for exclusive possession of Christine Daaé.

The show was an entertaining program suitable for Halloween. There were some frightening parts in the movie––the scene where Daaé tore off the Phantom’s mask to reveal his hideously deformed face generated screams from some audience members. The dynamic live music performance also created tension, enhancing the drama for each scene.