Los Angeles Music/Film Preview: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA: HALLOWEEN ORGAN AND FILM (Walt Disney Concert Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on October 30, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


It’s positively spooky looking for something to do on Halloween. Are you tired of coming home from that noisy Halloween party with smeared make-up? Are you weary of competing with the crowds on Santa Monica Boulevard? Are the high-heel pumps you only wear once a year causing Godzilla-sized blisters? Are the haunted mazes all hype and little payoff? Here’s a thrilling suggestion that offers a bounty of chills, but won’t have you going home with a headache or staying home contributing to the obesity of our youth: Watch a pristine print of Lon Chaney’s still-affecting The Phantom of the Opera (1925) while master organist Clark Wilson pulls out all the stops (not just proverbially) to do some serious hackle-raising. The ghoulish masterpiece (the movie, that is) will be accompanied live by the shrieks and rumblings of the monster-sized Walt Disney Concert Hall pipe organ.

Lon Chaney in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) 3

It’s frightening how many Angelinos have yet to hear one of the great concert organs of the world. Frank Geary’s design has the organ’s Douglas fir wood pipes sprouting as sculptures up to 32 feet high, which led to the architect’s well-known description of them as “French fries” (the interior pipes are high-tin alloy and the flute pipes are hammered lead). The Opus 24 (as the massive organ is called) has 10 keyboards that sound a trio of 13-horsepower blowers. In time for Disney Hall’s tenth anniversary, Manuel Rosales, who helped design and build the grand instrument, renovated the $3-million, 40-ton pipe organ with new updated digital systems and new sounds. The organ obviously has great clarity and a variety of color, yet it is capable of gentleness. If you’re wondering why it is perfect to accompany a horror classic, just know that it has the power to obliterate an entire orchestra (sound-wise – we wouldn’t want to hurt any of the LA Phil players).

Walt Disney Concert Hall's massive organ.

Most know the story of the film: Everyone at the Paris Opera House fears the sinister fiend Erik (Chaney), the phantom who creeps around the cold, clammy passageways beneath the theater. But the guy’s a great vocal coach, teaching understudy Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) on the sly. Sure, he wants her to be a great opera star, but apparently her voice isn’t enough of a calling card to persuade management to put her on, so Erik has to take time out of his busy schedule to drop chandeliers on unsuspecting patrons. Plus, the ghoul has a serious crush on his protégé, but she loves the dashing Raoul de Chagny (Norman Kerry). After killing, kidnappings and conniption fits, the Phantom inadvertently forces Raoul and secret service agent Simon Buquet (Gibson Gowland) to hunt for the ill-tempered maestro in his subterranean lair.

Lon Chaney in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) 2

Rotten Tomatoes, which rates the scare-fest as 90% fresh, states: “Decades later, it still retains its ability to scare – and Lon Chaney’s performance remains one of the benchmarks of the horror genre.” As if seeing the film on a big screen isn’t exhilarating enough, the behemoth rumbling above you will give you the shivers. Plus, you won’t have to wash all of that fake blood out of your clothes. Unfortunately, if your date is squeamish and digs nails into your arm, just consider those blood stains a souvenir from a great Halloween that’s black-and-white and red all over.

photos courtesy of LA Phil

The Phantom of the Opera: Halloween Organ and Film
presented by Los Angeles Philharmonic
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Avenue
Thursday, October 31, 2013, at 8 PM
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit http://www.LAPhil.com

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