Phantom of the Opera re-booted

A dream has been posthumously realised for a child prodigy. That is what happened at the prestigious Barbican Hall on March 18 this year. This was the very space in which celebrated composer Roy Budd was to stage The Phantom of the Opera with his music created especially for this ghoulish and gothic black and white silent classic. Set for September 1993 it never took place because Budd died sadly and unexpectedly at the age of only 46.

Though he died so young he left behind a significant body of work, notably film soundtracks. The fact that his orchestral soundtrack for the silent classic was staged over 25 years after his death is a testament to the impact of his work.

A career which started very young, at the age of 6 in 1953 Roy Budd made his debut at the Coliseum. From there he went on to secure a recording contract with Pye records while still a teenager releasing his first single “Birth of the Budd”. From this impressive start, he went on to build a solid music career which saw him write music for such classic films as The Wild Geese and Get Carter.

But one film – a rather different beast – was to capture his imagination. Roy Budd was captivated by the classic big screen incarnation of The Phantom of the Opera, in the 1925 black and white film original. This was a gothic classic starring screen legend Lon Chaney, the first film adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel published in 1910.

A world away from the gangster world of Michael Caine in Get Carter but with plenty of its own menace, this black and film first brought the famous Phantom alive. Budd was captivated by the hoary old silent black and white classic and made it a mission to give voice to these timeless characters through music. The accomplished composer set to work and created a soundtrack – completed in the first half of 1993. The first live performance was scheduled for September at the Barbican Centre. On August 7, 1993, Roy Budd was struck down with a fatal brain haemorrhage at the age of 46.

Just over 25 years later this passion project has finally been staged at London Coliseum on October 8th 2018. The very venue which saw the West End stage debut at the age of six. Thanks to the devotion and hard work of Australian producer Nick Hocart the realisation of Roy Budd’s dream, was completed with a big stage show. Fulfilling his original plan Roy Budd’s Phantom of the Opera finally made it to the venue to which it was destined back in September 1993. At the Barbican his lush full orchestral score was staged in front of the restored 35mm print, which he had purchased in 1991, and which had driven his passion to give a musical voice to this classic melodramatic tale.

As the audience took their seats the voice of Budd’s widow was heard introducing the presentation of her late husband’s work. Her heartfelt words set a very special scene presenting the final work of her late husband. This was a rather dramatic opening.
The restored print then flickered into life on the big screen in the Barbican Hall and conductor Spencer Down, of the Docklands Sinfonia, raised his baton and the music filled the auditorium.

The opening was a suitably dramatic organ section which set the scene suitably as we plunged into the dark underground world of mythical Phantom in his shadowy world beneath the Paris Opera House. After the dramatic sound of the organ, the narrative took flight on the wings of Budd’s sweeping and swelling string arrangements. Though audiences have become used to the masterly prosthetics of Hollywood there was no doubting the fright factor of the ghastly face of the Phantom unmasked. The screen impact of silent screen star Lon Chaney remained undimmed and the drama of shock for leading lady Christine was enhanced by the powerful score – a score which gave power and drama to this powerful and dramatic film known the world over.

View the stage show below

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