DIRECTOR'S CUT / A right Charlie: Benedict Mason, composer, reflects on setting Charlie Chaplin to music

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The Independent Culture
In Chaplinopera I have combined three early Chaplin shorts - Easy Street, The Immigrant and The Adventurer - to create a one-and-a-half- hour 'operatic filmspiel' with solo singers, chorus and large ensemble. My music is not the usual live silent film accompaniment: I see no reason to recreate the condescending and anaesthetic effect of Hollywood pastiche. Chaplin is so much a myth now, and his comedy routines so familiar or predictable, that his films have no need of that type of music.

The second part of The Immigrant takes place in a New York restaurant where Chaplin, as a penniless refugee, is intimidated by an enormous waiter played by Eric Campbell. For this scene, the singers' text is sung in Russian, the strangeness of the language emphasising the language barrier between Chaplin and the waiter, making them say unexpectedly revealing things and creating a distanced sub-plot concerning the implied fatalism and unhappiness of the characters' lives.

For me, this alienation goes to the heart of the silent film experience, with its strange and dream-like qualities.

Benedict Mason's 'Chaplinopera' (commissioned by the Ensemble Modern) was premiered earlier this month at the Strasbourg MUSICA festival; his ']' is given its British premiere by the London Sinfonietta at the South Bank Centre on Tuesday

(Photograph omitted)

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