Benedict Mason (b.1954) is an interesting avant-guardist who has been developing his career abroad, notably with Ensemble Modern in Germany. His score for these popular shorts is anarchic and a far cry from the more conventional approach of Carl Davis, who creates pastiche scores for the 'Mutuals'. For The Adventurer (1917) with Charlie as a resourceful escaped convict, shown at the recent Chaplin Festival on South Bank, Carl Davis scored for a cinema-orchestra sized section of the LPO, to give the feel of how these shorts were seen and heard in their heyday.
This new version for the London Sinfonietta and distinguished singers had complex text, in several languages plus doggerel. The libretto was posted in full around the walls of the QEH foyer. It was all suitably noisy and anarchic, but although a refreshingly new approach, it regrettably must be reckoned a near-miss, because the important words were almost totally inaudible, except for a few moments when the dense orchestral mayhem abated briefly. Mason's philosophy behind his creation, which leaves no doubt that the text is an important component of the whole, is available to study (plus that libretto) on the London Sinfonietta website
The publicity material said it would invent its own brand of humour "playing with the relationship between stage and silver screen". Another recent take on the early film revolution was Shooting Shakespeare, seen at Hackney Empire, which had live actors actually moving through the screen, treating the bizarre vogue for Shakespearean actors to mime to camera; the results available from Amazon on DVD, with new scores by Laura Rossi.
Mason's is a multi-layered approach and in the swirling, anarchic music, which reflects the violence of urban life in Easy Street, one caught several allusions to familiar music, and doubtless missed many others. It was an invigorating experience but palled as the evening wore on; the fault seemed to lie mainly with the sound balance controllers of Sound Intermedia. As with so many operas, even those in English, one needs (and should have had) surtitles; we are now so accustomed to splitting and dividing attention between different sources that these would not have been distracting.
So what is now needed is a DVD of Benedict Mason's ChaplinOperas with the usual subtitles. It could be a hit!
Peter Grahame Woolf