Sunday, September 02, 2012
Edward Ward's The Phantom of the Opera
This is, of course, the 1943 version of The Phantom of the Opera normally referred to as the "Claude Rains version" (which you can watch on YouTube). You could also call this the Nelson Eddy version or the Susanna Foster version, because they are also featured actors (and terrific singers).
What I loved most about it was the use of lavishly-orchestrated music by Chopin for a faux-opera. It makes a double whammy because the Chopin pieces (his best-known hits) would certainly have been familiar to 1943 audiences, and because it makes a reference to the friendship between Pauline Viardot and Frederick Chopin. Viardot, who was a huge international opera star during the middle part of the 19th century, worked with Chopin on French vocal settings of 12 of his Mazurkas. I believe that Edward Ward, who won an academy award for his Phantom score in 1944, made the best of all musical choices with using Chopin here, because Chopin never wrote any vocal music, and his presence would have been well-felt in Paris during the time the movie was set. (When Martha , translated appropriately into French for this movie, was a brand new hit!). Liszt is also featured in the film, complete with his priest's collar (which is hard to see here).
For the grand finale opera of the film (what a repertoire and what resources this fictional opera company had!), Edward Ward and librettist George Waggner used themes from Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, for an opera that they sang, naturally, in Russian.
Some of the music was original: the main theme of the movie, Ward's own "Lullaby of the Bells," bears occasional (and highly appropriate) homage to Camille Saint-Saens.
The only thing that I object to in this movie is its use of a fictionalized version of Ignaz Pleyel as a publisher who refused to even consider publishing the piano concerto (that features the "Lullaby of the Bells" as its main theme) written by the man who would become the phantom. They used Pleyel's name because Pleyel was a well-known Parisian publisher, but they clearly knew little about him.