Usher in Halloween weekend with ‘The Phantom of the Opera’

Courtesy photos: The SDSU School of Performing Arts has invited silent film historian and accomplished pianist and organist Ben Model to lead performances of “The Phantom of the Opera” on Friday, Oct. 29, and Saturday, Oct. 30, both at 7:30 p.m.

Silent film with pipe organ to be presented at SDSU’s Founders Recital Hall

BROOKINGS – Two unique showings of the 1929 theatrical version of the silent film “The Phantom of the Opera” are planned for Halloween weekend in South Dakota State University’s Founders Recital Hall.

By special arrangement and made possible by a private contribution, the SDSU School of Performing Arts has invited silent film historian and accomplished pianist and organist Ben Model to lead the performances on Friday, Oct. 29, and Saturday, Oct. 30, both at 7:30 p.m. Limited to 225 tickets for each performance, the shows are on sale now at www.woodbineproductions.com. Tickets are $27 apiece.

David Reynolds, director of the School of Performing Arts, notes that this opportunity began with a discussion two years ago when SDSU engineering alumnus and Brookings resident Doug Oleson posed a simple question: “When we were getting tours of the new building, it was mentioned that someday it would be terrific to feature the amazing pipe organ with a silent film. When do you think that will happen?”

When it came down to helping support the silent film and organ venture, and inspired by the concerts offered by an anonymous donor through Woodbine Productions, Oleson said he would help make it happen.

Reynolds offers a word of caution. “Many people know the Andrew Lloyd Weber version of Phantom of the Opera and his music; this is not that show. This is the original film with Lon Chaney which inspired ‘Phantom,’ and the music we hear with the film will be an original composition by Ben Model. It will be a truly unique experience!”

It then became a question of who the right musician would be to invite to accompany the film, and which film, and when. A quick search in the unique world of silent film accompaniment led Reynolds to Model.

Model is one of the nation’s leading silent films accompanists and performs on both piano and theatre organ. He works full-time presenting and accompanying silent films in a wide variety of venues around the U.S. and internationally, carrying on a tradition he learned from the late silent film organist Lee Erwin. Model is a visiting professor of film studies at Wesleyan University.

Model was eager to accept an invitation to South Dakota State University. However, before any details could be settled, the pandemic put everything on hold.

During discussions with Model, the Halloween weekend of 2021 was selected for the debut showing and performance. Model is looking forward to meeting the pipe organ in Founders Recital Hall.  

“I traditionally play on theatre organs in vintage venues, or on an electric keyboard I have configured to allow me to offer a sound experience similar to the old theatre organs. I am very much looking forward to my visit to Brookings and bringing a unique voice to the pipe organ which originally had a sacred purpose in a chapel. Now as an academic instrument, the pipe organ in the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center can show the variety of what these grand organs can do. They were designed to offer a symphonic or orchestral performance with just one performer. We are going to have a terrific weekend together,” he said.

Doug and Sandy Oleson spent much of their professional lives in the Seattle area, where Doug worked for Boeing. Seattle boasts several theatre organs in grand old theatres which are used today. It was his experience and enjoyment attending performances there that inspired Doug to bring this opportunity to Brookings.

“I like movies, and especially old silent films. Founders Recital Hall is a remarkable space. I’m really looking forward to hearing the organ and watching the film and hope others will enjoy it, too,” Doug Oleson said.

To many fans of the old silent films, the Man of a Thousand Faces, Lon Chaney is unmatched in the horror genre. Although his parents were deaf, Leonidas “Lon” Chaney became an actor and owner of a theatre company (together with his brother John). He made his debut at the movies in 1912, and his filmography is vast. Lon Chaney was especially famous for his horror parts in movies like Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). Due to his special make-up effects, he carried the characterization to be “the man of a thousand faces.”

Over the past 30-plus years, Model has created and performed live scores for several hundred silent films, films lasting anywhere from one minute to five hours. Model is a resident film accompanist at the Museum of Modern Art (New York) and at the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus Theatre, and performs at theatres, museums, schools and other venues around the U.S. and internationally.

The silent film with pipe organ performances are being coordinated as a “By Special Request” project in conjunction with Woodbine Productions and supported by a gift made through the SDSU Foundation, and ticket sales will become scholarships for students involved in music at South Dakota State University.

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