Catalina Island News

30-Piece Symphony Orchestra to Perform Phantom of the Opera Musical Score at Silent Film Benefit

Catalina Island Museum

The primary role of music in movies has never changed. It reveals the emotional heart of a film. The musical score for The Phantom of the Opera emphasizes what is taking place on the screen, but even more importantly, it reveals what is not visible. A 30-piece symphony orchestra, soprano vocalist Lisa Vroman and organist Dennis James will perform the film’s score during the Catalina Island Museum Silent Film Benefit on May 16th in the Avalon Casino Theatre. Grammy Award winner, Richard Kaufman, will return again this year to conduct the performance.

The score that will be performed during the museum’s benefit was based on the original 1925 composition and adapted for modern performance by organist Dennis James. The Catalina Island Museum recently asked James to share some insight into the film’s score:

“I first got a look at the original published score for Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera back in 1969 when a Philadelphia-based silent film organist named Vi Eggar gave me her copy of the piano/conductor part. Silent films at that time were commonly accompanied by live orchestras, numbering anywhere from 14 to 107 musicians.

This published score served as the basis of my reconstruction and modern-day adaptation of the full orchestral score. Gradually, I was able to acquire the sets of parts that go with each of the component pieces, and was thereby able to assemble them into the score that we're presenting in May. It was composed, or more accurately "compiled," by Gustav Hinrichs and Max Winkler. Winkler is credited with creating the concept of excerpting pre-existing music and matching it to the film, selecting works from a publisher's library to fit to silent images. The publishers retained staff composers to supply other readymade materials to suit chase scenes, love scenes, battles and the like.

The “Phantom” score is just such a patchwork of generics mixed with excerpted popular compositions. It features salon music and bona fide classical music, including excerpts from Charles Gounod's opera, Faust. The original score even calls for a live singer. When the Phantom character sits down to the organ to play, I will supply French Romantic classical music.”

When speaking of The Phantom of the Opera, many people think of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway musical of the same name. Though both were based on Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel, the 1925 silent film presents the most faithful version of the Phantom.

“They have absolutely nothing to do with each other,” said James when asked about the difference between the musical scores.  “The Webber score is a late 20th century Broadway show score, composed specifically for a fully staged live theatrical production.  Stylistically the Webber version is a complete departure from the 1920's elements used in the silent film score.”

Experience the unique opportunity to view the original 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera in the Avalon Casino Theatre with live musical accompaniment by a 30-piece symphony orchestra, a soprano vocalist and organist at 1:00 pm on Saturday, May 16th. The 28th Annual Catalina Island Museum Silent Film Benefit demonstrates the museum’s mission to bring history, art, music and film to the community of Avalon and its visitors.

Attend in period dress and win a prize for best-dressed individual or best-dressed couple. A prize will also be awarded for best character from the film.

Are you a member of the museum? Join us for our Members Pre-Performance Talk, between 12:00 pm and 12:30 pm, featuring the conductor of the orchestra, Richard Kaufman and organist Dennis James.

Don’t wait to purchase tickets! This event will sell out. Tickets are $20 for members of the museum and $24 for general admission. Purchasing tickets is easy. Please call 310-510-2414, visit the museum in person, or go to the Silent Film event page at