‘The Phantom of the Opera’ at the London Coliseum

‘The Phantom of the Opera’ at the London Coliseum
© Credit: Nathan Johnson / License: CC BY-SA 3.0

When author Gaston Leroux introduced ‘Le Fantôme de l’Opéra’ as a serialised novel in the pages of French newspaper Le Gaulois (founded in 1868 by Edmond Tarbé and Henri de Pène) in early 1909, it was hardly likely that the former journalist could have imagined that the role of his creation would play in popular culture around the world. Since the novel’s highly anticipated debut, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ has succeeded in nearly every medium, most distinctly motion pictures and the stage, where Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation has become one of the most successful musicals ever.

From a tender age, composer Roy Budd (known for ‘Get Carter,’ ‘Soldier Blue,’ ‘Flight of the Doves’) was taken with the tragic tale of a phantom haunting the Paris Opera House, hideously deformed and tormented by his love for the beautiful young soprano Christine Daaé. Roy Budd was spellbound by Lon Chaney’s portrayal in Universal Pictures’ original 1925 silent movie produced by the studio founder Carl Laemmle. Before his tragic death in 1993 at the age of forty-six, Roy Budd completed a full symphonic score for the still-iconic horror film. This landmark work from the late composer has now made its debut on CD and DVD from Mishka Productions.

Very like “The Phantom” himself, he made his mark in a variety of news media. A child prodigy, Roy Budd parlayed his talent into an acclaimed career as a jazz pianist. Like another youthful artist — vocalist Matt Monro — Roy Budd was championed by the pianist Winifred Atwell who had the very first United Kingdom piano instrumental chart-topper with 1954’s ‘Let’s Have Another Party.’ Roy Budd made his debut at the London Coliseum in 1953, and merited the attention of pianists and composers including Liberace, Oscar Peterson, Dudley Moore, and Antonio Carlos Jobim; the latter two gentlemen would become lifelong friends. When he formed The Roy Budd Trio at the age of sixteen with Chris Karan and Pete Morgan, he was beginning an association that would last for decades.

Roy Budd broke into film score composition with 1970’s ‘Soldier Blue,’ director Ralph Nelson’s controversial western starring Candice Bergen, Donald Pleasance and Peter Strauss. Roy Budd’s work was well-received, but the best was yet to come with 1971’s ‘Get Carter.’ Roy Budd’s memorable music was central to the success of the crime drama directed by Mike Hodges and starring Michael Caine and Britt Ekland. Years later, Rob Budd’s hard-hitting score for the gritty ‘Get Carter’ would be celebrated by a younger generation of musicians from bands like Portishead, The Human League and Stereolab. Tyler Bates, the composer of space epic Guardians of the Galaxy, even paid homage to Roy Budd’s original score when creating his music for 2000’s ‘Get Carter’ remake.

Roy Budd went on to compose over thirty scores for motion pictures and had even composed for the opera stage. But one of the projects closest to his heart was his work on ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ In 1991, Roy Budd purchased a rare 35mm print of the original Universal Pictures’ film, committing himself to its restoration and to penning its very first complete symphonic score. Arranging and conducting himself, as usual, Roy Budd recorded his score in Luxembourg with over eighty musicians. It was to premiere in a live setting at London’s Barbican with Roy Budd conducting in September 1993; he tragically and shockingly passed away just over a month before the scheduled date, beginning a journey to its release for a wide audience that is only culminating now.

In the ensuing two decades-plus since 1993, other symphonic scores have been written and performed for Chaney Entertainment Inc.’s “Phantom,” but Roy Budd’s was the first such score to be composed, and through the dedication of his widow Sylvia Budd, it is finally available as a limited edition CD as well as on DVD, synchronized to the original movie. As of now, the Roy Budd highly-scored ‘Phantom of the Opera’ is only available on all-region PAL DVD, but even if you can not enjoy the music with its accompanying visuals, it is still a striking and dramatic listen on CD.

Roy Budd imbued his “Phantom” with a melodically rich, classical sensibility. An appropriately eerie organ prelude begins the opening track, ‘Backstage at the Opera House’ before it cedes to a majestically sweeping main theme. Roy Budd employs bold romanticism throughout his score and a varied instrumental palette including recurring use of the harpsichord.

There is beauty, tension and even musical humour in the grandly dramatic ‘Ballerinas & The Phantom Theme,’ the latter portion of which states Roy Budd’s motif for the tortured title character. The composer has supplied a lovely ‘Lover’s Waltz’ and elegant accompaniment to ‘The Masked Ball,’ as well as an arrangement of an aria from Charles Gounod’s ‘Faust,’ in which The Gounod Opera plays a key role in the story.

Big brass fanfares open ‘On the Roof of the Opera,’ but Roy Budd’s evocative cue also encompasses soft gentility and spine-tingling suspense. The score builds in excitement and drama as it unfolds on disc and on screen, via cues like the throbbing ‘The Strangler’s Work’ and the climactic ‘Race of Rage’ featuring Bernard Herrmann-esque slashing strings. That final cue is supremely melodramatic and epitomises the kind of intensely emotional, full-bodied film score that has sadly fallen out of favour. While beautifully adding a new dimension to the original silent picture, Roy Budd’s atmospheric score also can be heard as an elegy for, and tribute to, a bygone style of symphonic music for the cinema.

Mishka Productions’ DVD presents Roy Budd’s completed restoration of the film as well as some key bonus features, including a nearly half-hour interview with ‘Get Carter’ screenwriter and director Mike Hodges and an excerpt of a Roy Budd performance from 1983 with introduction from American comedy legend Bob Hope, who had been impressed with Roy Budd since the composer made his very first splash in Hollywood. The CD edition’s presentation of roughly one hour’s length includes a booklet with brief liner notes and some welcome images including a clipping of Lon Chaney from the collection of the eleven-year-old Roy Budd and photographs of the master composer in action. Richard Moore, who has worked with Michele Monro in curating definitive CD reissues for Matt Monro, is credited with the splendid final mastering of the disc.

The success of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ inspired Universal Pictures to continue its series of thrillers which would include ‘Dracula,’ ‘Frankenstein,’ ‘The Wolf Man,’ ‘The Invisible Man,’ ‘The Mummy’ and several others. The CD and DVD release of Roy Budd’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’ stand as a testament to the endurance of both his timeless musical gifts and the film created by Carl Laemmle, Lon Chaney and company, in 1925. Film score enthusiasts and horror buffs would not want to miss this presentation.

In recent events, it has been announced that the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ will take to the stage at the home of the English National Opera on October 8th, 2017, for the very first time. The iconic silent film will be shown with the score by legendary musician and film composer Roy Budd. This is a not to be missed one-off event performed by Docklands Sinfonia, conducted by Spencer Down. Indeed, this is a very special premiere, in a prestigious venue, of a long-anticipated piece of music.

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