by Mike Keenan
If Chorus Niagara was a MLB player, say for example, Babe Ruth or a few years later, Joe DiMaggio, two of the more formidable pin-stripers for the powerful New York Yankees, it would be hitting four-for-four, each at-bat, a home run in front of an appreciative and delighted full house.
On May 3, they completed their successful season with the classic silent film, Phantom of the Opera, set to magical maestro Robert Cooper’s fittingly curated music to accompany the film classic staring Lon Chaney Sr.
Cooper’s selections ferry the audience into the gaudy yet sophisticated realm of French opera, its ornate Palais Garnier along with its inner workings and the subterranean depths that include catacombs, torture chambers and the sewer system. It’s replete with a river which must be the Styx in Greek mythology, forming the boundary between Earth and the Underworld, the domain called Hades, which the Phantom cleverly uses to his advantage to dispatch his foes.
The music aids and abets our emotional take on the Phantom, a film so old and often stilted that we are often amused by the long takes and given no sound track, the over emphasis on meaningful glances. We hear Gluck, Gounod, Bizet, Saint-Saens and Poulenc along with Boito and Tchaikovsky as well as Ravel, Sisak, Orff, Stravinsky, Lauridsen and a personal favourite, Italian composer Ennio Morricone, whose haunting score for the film, The Mission, I will never forget.
Besides Cooper’s talented chorus, (concealed behind the screen and curtains) we are also treated to soprano Adrianna Polito, mezzo-soprano Annie Montgomery, tenor Adrian Petry, and baritone Taylor Webb’s Trois beaux oiseaux, Polito’s Jewel Song from Faust, mezzo-soprano Lillian Brooks’ Nella Fantasia, Brooks and baritone Lutzen Riedstra’s Gloire a Dagon from Samson and Dalilah as well as three more songs from the talented principals.
And speaking of accompaniment, there was John-Luke Addison on the piano and Lynne Honsberger on the organ, the latter’s improvisations between pieces, typical of silent movie accompaniment in the theatres of the day. Honsberger was sensational in this her last performance after 28 years of assisting an appreciative Cooper who, at the conclusion, offered up a heart-warming tribute to salute Lynne’s multiple achievements and dedication. Fortunately, she will remain with the youth chorus where I once watched her work brilliantly with Artistic Director, Amanda Nelli.
In the 1925 film, Lon Chaney Sr. stars as the mad, disfigured composer whose obsession for the attractive singer, Christine, leads to mayhem and murder. Chaney was a stage and film actor, director, screenwriter, dancer, singer and comedian, one of the most versatile and powerful actors of early cinema, renowned for his tortured, grotesque and afflicted characters.
He developed his own makeup techniques which led to the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Faces.” Following the success of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923, Chaney was once again allowed to create his own make-up as the Phantom. He painted his eye sockets black, giving a skull-like impression. He also pulled the tip of his nose up and pinned it in place with wire, enlarged his nostrils with black paint, and put a set of jagged false teeth into his mouth to complete the ghastly, deformed look of the Phantom. When audiences first saw The Phantom of the Opera, they were said to have screamed or fainted at the scene where Christine pulls the concealing mask away.
Chaney developed pneumonia in 1929, and was diagnosed with bronchial lung cancer which was exacerbated when artificial snow made out of cornflakes lodged in his throat during filming and created a serious infection. His condition gradually worsened, and he died of a throat hemorrhage.
Chorus Niagara has already posted its next season’s offerings, so one had best acquire tickets early as the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre’s Partridge Hall sells out quickly.
As for accompaniment, Lynne Honsberger will be a hard act to follow!
Chorus Niagara’s website: http://www.chorusniagara.ca/
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