Behind the baton of Fort Worth Symphony’s ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ performances

Posted Sunday, Oct. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Singin’ in the Rain Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra • 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday • Bass Hall, Fort Worth • $27-$79 • 817-665-6000; www.fwsymphony.org

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You may have seen the film Singin’ in the Rain several times, but you have never heard it like this before.

“I think that it is the music the orchestra is playing that makes it worthwhile,” says John Goberman, the award-winning producer behind the concept known as Symphonic Cinema — the screening of classic motion pictures accompanied by a live symphony orchestra.

The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra has done several such presentations, including The Wizard of Oz and Alexander Nevsky, two other films prepared by Goberman. And, on Friday, the orchestra will provide the music for the first of three screenings of Singin’ in the Rain, the 1952 classic that the American Film Institute selected as the No. 1 cinematic musical of all time.

“It has to be great music,” says Goberman, about the process of selecting films that are appropriate for these symphonic upgrades. “Because it becomes a performance of the film rather than just a screening of the film.”

Once a film is singled out for this concert hall treatment, however, things get complicated.

“You would like to think that in the world of computer advancement, there would be a magic way of doing it. But there isn’t. It is tricky and painstaking,” Goberman says. “It takes a very, very good audio person going in there, frame by frame, to strip away the music and leave the vocal. It is all a matter of skill and experience. It just takes a long time, and it is very expensive.”

The version of Singin’ in the Rain screening this weekend, which Goberman says took “eight to 10 months” to prepare, will have all the original dialogue and sound effects, but not a note of the original music.

That part will be up the symphony, which will be performing from a score that was also specially prepared for these screenings, under the baton of music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya.

About the movie

The plot of Singin’ in the Raindeals with the era from which its title song arose — a period when many of the great silent film stars were trying to make the transition to sound work. Most did so smoothly, but more than a few were forced to change careers because of heavy accents or speaking voices that did not match their screen personas.

The film focuses on matinee idol Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), who is stuck with annoying leading lady Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) because their film studio bosses like it that way. When it is determined that the silent Lockwood-Lamont costume drama The Dueling Cavalier must be converted to a musical, Lockwood and his sidekick, Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor), decide the only path to success is to have new-found talent Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) dub in the vocals for the screechy, helium-voiced Lamont.

Tuneful, amazingly well-danced high jinks ensue.

Of course, Kelly’s dancing in this film is iconic (we’re talking a downpour, lampposts and a closed umbrella here). And O’Connor matches him step for step. But, while those two hoofers were at the peak of their careers when this film was made, the 19-year-old Reynolds had hardly any dance experience. She literally rehearsed and performed until her feet bled to keep up with her vastly more practiced cohorts. And, as you see in the final product, she wound up keeping up pretty well.

The movie runs 1 hour and 43 minutes.

Fort Worth audiences will be among the first in the country to see the concert version of this splashy musical, which debuted in London just six months ago.

‘You really have two audiences’

Goberman says he was motivated to develop the concept of these symphonic film presentations by Alexander Nevsky, a 1938 historical epic about an early Russian leader directed by the legendary Sergei Eisenstein and featuring a score by Sergei Prokofiev.

His version of Nevsky, in 1987, was the first sound film to be presented in this fashion. He has also produced concert versions of Casablanca and Pyscho.

“I’ve always thought that the Nevsky score was extraordinary. It was the best film score ever written — and the worse film score ever recorded,” says Goberman, 72, a former cellist (he once played Carnegie Hall with conductor Leopold Stokowski on the podium) who is also well-known as the creator of the Live From Lincoln Center series seen on PBS. “So I wanted the opportunity to restore what Prokofiev had done and make it a live performance.”

The next project for Goberman will be another Alfred Hitchcock great, Vertigo, which will be debuted by the San Francisco Symphony on Nov. 1.

“I can’t wait to see the audience watching a travelogue of their own city,” he says.

And while they are watching, they will also be listening.

“The effect has been that you really have two audiences at the performances,” he says. “One is a music audience and the other is a film audience. What we strive for is an audience that is fascinated by what they see, and knocked out by what they hear. That’s what makes it a very satisfying undertaking.”

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