NOV / DEC 2013: BY A.G. PORTER
Andrew Lloyd Webber has had one of most successful careers in musical theater history.
Even those unfamiliar with musicals recognize his name when it’s mentioned. During his career, he’s won numerous awards for the musical productions he has created and written for, and many of them have stood the test of time, such as Cats and Evita. However, his most famous work is The Phantom of the Opera. He wrote the music and Charles Hart did the lyrics with additions from Richard Stilgoe. The original cast included Sarah Brightman as Christine and Michael Crawford as the Phantom. It surpassed Cats as the longest running musical on Broadway, and became the first Broadway musical to surpass 10,000 performances on February 11, 2012.
What is it about the musical genius with a dangerous obsession for the beautiful soprano that captures the imagination of millions? Is it the music, the lyrics, or the actors?
The Phantom of the Opera is set in Paris, 1881. The Phantom, a disfigured musical genius, has taken refuge in the Opera Populaire since escaping from a traveling freak show. There he works on his music and begins teaching the young and orphaned Christine Daae, a beautiful and talented soprano. When Christine’s childhood sweetheart, Raoul the Vicomte de Chagny, becomes the new patron to the Opera Populaire and reinserted into Christie’s life, the Phantom stakes his claim on her, which leads to a disastrous outcome.
To understand the music and lyrics of the musical, it’s important to dig deeper into the two main characters, The Phantom and Christine. The Phantom is a lost and lonely soul. Like with most geniuses, there is an underlying level of madness that he can’t control. He’s forced to stay hidden because of his disfigurement (in 1881, differences were not as well accepted in society). Christine is his creative outlet and only connection to the world he so desperately wants to be a part of. He’s drawn to the world of light but prisoner to the “music of the night.” His love for Christine is twisted when it’s threatened by Raoul. He wants to claim and control her instead of love her. With lyrics like “from the moment I first heard you sing, I needed you with me to serve me, to sing,” and “Touch me, trust me, savor each sensation,” there isn’t any doubt the Phantom is completely smitten by Christine. His love for her is actual love, but he allows his madness, pride and fear to take control and he ultimately losses her.
Christine is in awe of the Phantom when she thinks he’s the Angel of Music. There is a slight sense of fear but only because she doesn’t want to disappoint him. We see this when the Phantom chastises her for letting Raoul nearly persuade her to go out to dinner instead of staying in and working on her craft. Her eyes are opened to who her “Angel of Music” truly is through the terrible things he is capable of. She feels foolish and betrayed that she gave her mind and soul over so freely to a man as diabolic as him (“Angel of Music… you deceived me… I gave you my mind blindly”).
She loves the Phantom on a certain level and proves this when she’s reluctant to help capture him. Plus, she’s afraid of what he might do. His world is dark and dangerous; she doesn’t want to go back to it, but she doesn’t want to betray him either. Here are a few lines of song that express Christine’s conflict over her feelings of The Phantom: “Can I betray the man who once inspired by voice? Do I become his prey? Do I have any choice? He kills without thought; he murders all that’s good. I know I can’t refuse, and yet, I wish I could. Oh God if I agree, what horrors wait for me in this, The Phantom’s Opera…. but his voice filled my spirit with a strange sweet sound. In the night there was music in my mind. And through the music my soul began to soar… and I heard as I’ve never heard before.”
Yet she is in love with Raoul, willing to give her life for his. She knows he’s a good man who has saved her from the darkness. Her compassion for the Phantom is what gives her solace when she decides, in order to spare Raoul’s life, to stay with him (“Pitiful creature of darkness, what kind of life have you known? God give me courage to show you, you are not alone”).
What if Raoul had never come into Christine’s life? Would she have been attracted to someone else with the same result? Perhaps the Phantom would have made himself known to her and their relationship could have developed in a healthy way. Is it possible that Christine would have had time to slowly bring the Phantom out of the darkness and into the light? ♥