The Phantom of the Opera
The longest running musical in history; it premiered in 1986 and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2011, only one year after Les Mis. The most well known Andrew Lloyd Webber production, it is based on a French novel which has undergone numerous other iterations, including a black and white film from the twenties. Michael Crawford was the first Phantom, chosen by Webber, though he originally thought Webber meant him for Raoul (I know someone who insisted that Colm Wilkinson was the best Phantom; I say let Colm have Les Mis and allow Michael Phantom), and Sarah Brightman was the first Christine (and married to Webber at the time; the part was essentially written for her…considering she is one of the few women to hit those high notes). I knew the music of this show long before I fully knew the show or saw a rendition of it. My mother is a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music and played them for my brother and I at a very young age. I can recall hearing an instrumental version of Music of the Night playing in the background at the school library in fifth grade, and knowing it. I did get the Original Cast recording, which includes a libretto and I learned the storyline that way. In high school, my friend planned an impromptu party and took me to see the movie after a break-up. It was actually perfect, since I already loved the show, though I have not seen it on stage.
A film was made of the famous stage show in 2004. Gerard Butler was cast as the Phantom (not the best casting choice), Emmy Rossum (a child opera performer with the Metropolitan Opera) was Christine, Patrick Wilson was Raoul, Miranda Richardson (Rita Skeeter in Harry Potter) was Madame Giry, Ciaran Hinds (Aberforth Dumbledore, Amazing Grace, and Macne Rayder in Game of Thrones) was Firmin, Simon Callow (the Duke of Sandringham in Outlander, Shakespeare in Love, Charles Dickens in Doctor Who, and would later appear in The Man Who Invented Christmas) was Andre, and Kevin McNally (Mr. Gibbs in Pirates of the Caribbean) was Buquet.
The opening of the film appears in black and white; an auction at an old Parisian opera house in 1919. An old gentleman bids on a monkey music box. Then lot 666 (rather ominous) is next, a repaired chandelier which featured into the famous “Phantom disaster;” a mystery never fully explained. As the chandelier rises, the iconic organ blares and the film moves into color as lights flicker on. We are taken back to the same opera house in Paris in 1870. Everyone is preparing backstage at the opera house, rehearsing a production on Hannibal. Carlotta is the star soprano. Rehearsal stops for a moment when the two new owners are introduced; the previous owner is retiring. They also have a Vicomte as their patron. One of the ballet dancers recognizes the Victomte as her childhood friend, Raoul. Carlotta is a true diva; she stops production again and threatens to leave when the owners take more notice of the dancers than her, including young Christine Daae, the orphaned daughter of a well-known violinist. Her friend, Meg’s mother is Madame Giry, in charge of the dancers. The owners quickly learn to grovel to Carlotta. She will sing the aria Think of Me. Then a backdrop nearly falls on her. The cast blames the accident on the mysterious Phantom of the Opera. This time, she’s leaving. Madame Giry recommends Christine can perform the role; “let her sing for you, monsieur; she has been well taught.” And she indeed has a lovely singing voice. She is transformed from chorus girl to the star of the show.
The Vicomte now sees her and recognizes his friend; she certainly has changed. (I have always considered Think of Me as Christine singing to Raoul: “We never said/ our love was evergreen/ or as unchanging as the sea/ but please promise me/ that sometimes/ you will think of me.”) Christine earns a standing ovation and a deep, unseen voice also congratulates her. Meg looks for her later amongst the celebrations. She finds her friend in the chapel and inquires where Christine learned to sing. Christine calls him her Angel of Music, promised to her by her father. Really, she believes that it is her father’s spirit, though she is a bit frightened by him. Raoul visits later and wants to take Christine to dinner to celebrate, but her Angel is very strict. A mysterious black-gloved hand locks her door. Then she hears music and a figure in the mirror. She is drawn forward. Raoul hears the voice through the door, but cannot enter.
Thus begins the titular Phantom of the Opera (and most famous track of the entire show). The Phantom, Christine’s Angel of Music, draws her down below the opera house to an underground lake. He poles a boat across to his quarters, where there is a shrine to Christine. But she is still transfixed, the Phantom’s “power over you/ grows stronger yet.” The Phantom asks Christine to sing and she progresses higher and higher (eventually hitting an E two octaves above middle C). The Phantom further seduces Christine with his voice in the darkly romantic Music of the Night [my favorite piece]. As an adult, you realize how creepy the Phantom truly is, declaring that young Christine belongs to him. “Close your eyes/ and surrender/ to your darkest dreams/ purge your thoughts/ of the life/ you knew before.” He shows her a mannequin of herself, decked out in a wedding dress. She faints and the Phantom lays her on his bed; reminder, she is in her undergarments and a robe.
Above ground, Meg looks for her friend and even finds the passage, but her mother stops her. Madame Giry also stops Buquet from telling the cast a scary story about the magical lasso. She warns to keep your hand at the level of your eye. Christine does awake and takes the mask off the Phantom. He keeps a hand over his face and yells at Christine; now she cannot ever be free. This whole experience is Stranger Than You Dreamt It. The Phantom feels he is a gargoyle who burns in hell, yet secretly yearns for heaven. He urges Christine that fear can turn to love (yep, really creepy). She returns the mask and the Phantom returns her.
The following morning, Firmin and Andre discuss the previous evening; Firmin is certain that any publicity is good and will earn them money, “gossip’s worth its’ weight in gold.” Andre is more cautious. And they both have notes from the mysterious Phantom, demanding a salary and giving critique on the performance. Raoul enters with a note as well, telling him to stay away from Christine. Carlotta enters as well with a note warning her against replacing Christine; she figures Raoul sent it, obviously Christine is sleeping with him. Madame Giry reports that Christine is home, sleeping. And another note; the Phantom instructs Christine to play the lead in the next production and Carlotta will play the silent role. Carlotta is upset and the owners are wondering why they are constantly hearing about Christine now. The characters all sing over each other, and the owners now have to grovel to the Prima Donna again, insisting that her public needs her. Carlotta is the definition of a diva. And everyone knows it.
The next performance features Carlotta in her lead and Christine as the secondary role. During the show, Buquet spot the Phantom and goes to investigate. The Phantom’s deep voice echoes throughout the entire theatre demanding that Box Five was to be kept open for him. Christine on stage says she knows it’s the Phantom. Carlotta snidely remarks “your part is silent, you little toad.” That gives the Phantom an idea. During their pick-up of Poor Fool Carlotta begins croaking (we did see her voice spray bottles switched earlier; in the show that does not happen; the Phantom has magical powers). She runs off in terror and the owners declare Christine will take on the role after a short break. For now, a distraction, the ballet from Act Three. Buquet continues to chase the Phantom, until he is chased by the masked man. A noose is wrapped around his neck and he drops to the stage, dead. Girls scream and Christine finds Raoul, claiming the roof will be safe. She is now truly frightened of the Phantom; he has proven he will kill. Raoul vows to protect her. All I Ask of You, Christine says, is for Raoul to love her. “All I want is freedom/ a world with no more night/ and you, always beside me/ to hold me and to hide me.” The couple kisses. But the Phantom is hidden and overhears everything. He is angry that Christine is refusing him and seeking another man. He shouts, “you will curse the day you did not do/ all that the Phantom asked of you!” In the show, we return to the stage and the Phantom drops the chandelier at Christine’s feet. In the movie, the couple simply exit the roof.
The second half of the performance begins with a Masquerade. The cast celebrates several months of relief and peace from the Phantom. In the movie they are dressed in black and white, though they are in colorful garb in the show. Christine and Raoul have secretly gotten engaged. But the Phantom appears to ruin their fun. Why So Silent, did you think I had left for good? He has written a new opera, Don Juan Triumphant, along with more notes. Carlotta must be taught to act, Piangi must lose some weight, and Christine must return to him for further instruction. He hisses to her that she belongs to him and steals her ring. Raoul follows the Phantom through a trap door, armed with a sword, but disoriented by a ring of mirrors. Madame Giry rescues Raoul and takes him to her room to reveal the truth of the Phantom. Years ago, when she was studying to be a ballerina, there was a traveling fair. One of their exhibits with the “Demon’s Child,” a young boy who usually wore a bag over his head in a cage. Until he was beaten and the bag removed, showing a disfigured face. Giry felt bad for the boy, so even after she sees him strangle his tormentor, she helps him escape and leads him underneath the opera house. And that is where he has stayed. She claims he is a genius. Raoul argues it has turned to madness.
Raoul has taken to sleeping outside Christine’s door, but she sneaks past him to visit her father’s grave. The driver is hit over the head and replaced, but he comes to in time to tell Raoul where the young woman has gone. Christine pleads Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, desiring guidance from her father. Then the doors of the mausoleum begin to open and a voice calls to her, “come to me angel of music.” Raoul warns that is not her father. The Phantom leaps out and duels Raoul with a sword [where did he learn to do that?]. The Phantom gets a strike in, but Raoul beats him back. Christine stops him from killing the other man; “not like this.” [Not the smartest idea; would save yourself a whole lot of trouble if you just let him.] The Phantom curses, “now let it be war upon you both!” (There’s a difference in order between the movie and the show and this part happens a little later in the show)
Raoul has a plan. It involves using Christine as bait, but he will have the opera house filled with arm police and they will be armed. They will apprehend the Phantom and all will be well. Christine is frightened and does not want to do it; worried that the Phantom will take her and she will never be free. Twisted Every Way, should she risk her life in order to win the chance to live? Can she betray the man who did inspire her voice? But she cannot refuse him now, even if she wants to. Don Juan Triumphant begins, dark and syncopated. The Phantom takes over Piangi’s role and sings to Christine. She realizes who it is and signals Raoul with her eyes. They’ve come Past the Point of No Return. Christine plays along with the Phantom, rather convincingly because Raoul has tears in his eyes, fearing that his love has actually given into the villain. The Phantom is certainly trying to seduce Christine, but she wakes up and tears off his mask [okay, in the movie, his disfigurement isn’t that bad; it’s most likely played up on stage]. The Phantom is furious and drops the chandelier into the stage, starting a fire while he makes off with Christine through a trap door, Down Once More. Carlotta finds Piagni dead. Raoul, followed by Madame Giry take off after the Phantom. The rest of the cast bands together to Track Down This Murderer.
Madame Giry leads Raoul so far, but she cannot go further. Her final advice is to keep his hand at the level of his eyes. Raoul removes his coat and vest and continues. He drops into a pool and bars begin to descend. He manages to open the release valve and pushes forward. Meanwhile, Christine has changed into the wedding gown for the Phantom and asks if he will enjoy the pleasure of the flesh now. He agrees that he had been denied that all his live, along with most human compassion. His face has poisoned her love, he declares. She retorts the distortion lies in his soul, not his face. Raoul is captured and demands the Phantom show compassion to Christine (note that the men’s costumes are very similar; the Phantom is most likely attempting to appeal to Christine by mimicking Raoul). As he ties Raoul to the bars, the Phantom tells him he will not harm Christine; he loves her. He offers Christine a deal; if Christine agrees to remain with the Phantom, he will let Raoul free. If she denies him, Raoul dies. Christine is angry now; any tears she had for the Phantom’s predicament have turned to hate. The Phantom places a noose around Raoul’s neck. Really, who does he expect her to choose? The man who is closer to her age and a childhood friend? Or the older guy who is very possessive, has murdered at least three people that we know of, has pretended to be her father and wants to sleep with her? Christine finally comes forward and kisses the Phantom. He cries. Then lets Raoul go and orders them to leave; they can hear the mob approaching. Christine does reappear to the Phantom for another moment to give him the engagement ring (which he stole from her, then gave back in order to marry her, so I’m not sure why she’s giving it to him, since Raoul bought it). The Phantom smashes the mirrors; one of which reveals another secret passage. A curtain drops to hide it once he’s gone. Meg does find his mask; but no Phantom.
The film ends back in 1919 with Raoul placing the monkey music box on Christine’s grave; showing she died two years previous. Also on the grave is a rose with a black ribbon and the ring. A pop of color as the rose turns red.
This is another intense musical; it is primarily sung and since it features sopranos, there are several really high notes. I am not fond of Gerard Butler as the Phantom, not after listening to Michael Crawford all my life. Emmy is sweet, but doesn’t quite have the full quality in her voice that Sarah Brightman has. Sarah can still pull off the airy tones, thirty years later. Patrick Wilson as Raoul is very cute; good casting! The church I grew up in has a magnificent pipe organ and I have wanted us to perform at least a concert of Phantom of the Opera for years; it would sound incredible! And if I could have any role, I’d want Christine…aside from those high notes. Think of Me is a sweet song, but few pieces can ever match the power of Phantom of the Opera. Music of the Night is seductive and Josh Groban performed it when Andrew Lloyd Webber was honored by the Kennedy Center…I simply melt. I did help with a rehearsal of Prima Donna when the church did another cabaret presentation of Phantom of the Opera, as Carlotta, meaning I did manage to hit some of those high notes. It was exhilarating. I just have to be really warmed up. For that performance, I did Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again; and I made people cry (in a good way!) That was also wonderful to hear. I love singing. I love singing this music. Which I can enjoy in the comfort of my car, or shower, or room (and if I miss a note, no one will know!)
All I Ask of You is a lovely duet and Masquerade is just plain fun. I adore Christine’s and Raoul’s costumes in that scene. As I’ve gotten older, I have new respect for the tone of Past the Point of No Return.
Up Next: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat