There can’t have been many trumpet players more nervous about their solo at the Albert Hall than the one who opened the performance there last night. His orchestral colleagues surrounding him on stage, a huge cinema screen hanging directly over his head, a full house waiting as the credits began to roll – and then he has to play the eight most famous notes in movie history. He utterly nailed them, five thousand spines tingled, and we were off.
Showing The Godfather with a live musical accompaniment could feel like a gimmick, but actually it’s a wonderful way of refreshing a classic. We all know the film backwards, right down to its tiny imperfections: James Caan’s punch, for instance, several inches of daylight visible between his fist and the victim’s chin. We know that the baby being christened at the end is Sofia Coppola, that the horse’s head in the bed is real (the producers got it from a dog food factory) ... we know this movie like Clemenza knows cannoli. But watching it with a live orchestra shifts your perspective slightly, makes everything feel new.
For a start you’re reminded just how great Nino Rota’s score is in its own right. For prolonged stretches I watched the musicians rather than the screen, reflecting that I’d happily pay to see them even without the movie overhead. The conventional classical line-up is augmented by mandolin, guitar and accordion for the trademark rendition of the main theme. The live music even extends to the bands at the two weddings, Connie’s in America and Michael’s in Sicily. The latter are comically out of tune, something faithfully reproduced by the horn players on stage. And as Les Dawson could have told you, a musician needs serious chops to be capable of that.
Some of the time, though, you found yourself forgetting that the orchestra were there, so seamlessly did they meld with what was happening on screen. The moment where a nurse interrupts Michael as he stands over his father’s hospital bed made everyone jump: it was only then that you realised how skilfully conductor Justin Freer had been marshalling his performers and heightening the tension. Venue and film were a perfect match, too, the plush red of the hall complementing the 1940s action. I almost expected to see Al Pacino and Robert Duvall walk in wearing period tuxedos. I certainly wouldn’t have argued if either had wanted my seat.
The company behind the idea, CineConcerts, also perform Titanic and Gladiator in the same way. How much you’ll enjoy those occasions depends, of course, on how much you like the films in question. But assuming you’re a fan of The Godfather, if this show comes round again and a friend gets tickets, it’ll be one offer you certainly shouldn’t refuse.