Phantom of the Opera
Gaston Leroux published his novel, “Le Fantome de l’Opera,” or “Phantom of the Opera,” in 1911.
Earlier he had worked as a theatre critic for a French newspaper, the “L’Echo de Paris,” and had heard talk of a chandelier, fastened above the crowd, in the Paris Opera House, that had crashed down, killing one, injuring others. He also learned of murders and kidnappings at the theatre.
He then heard rumors of a ghost that haunted the Paris Opera House, who lived near an underground lake, deep below the opera house, who in secret, interacted with audiences, theatre officials, and actors.
Leroux pulled these isolated facts and rumors into a tale of mystery and horror, in the same order as Edgar Allen Poe or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In Leroux’s telling, the Opera Ghost instructs those with mediocre talents and brings out their best on stage, if they will allow him.
The Opera Ghost hesitates to show himself to many, because he suffers from a disfigured face, that he covers with a partial mask.
One current literary critic, Patricia Drumright, pointed out that Leroux’s story has remained popular for over a hundred years, because it offers “something for just about everyone,” mystery, Gothic horror, music, theater, melodrama, tragedy, and, above all else, romance.
In his mystery novel’s prologue, Leroux claimed that he had investigated the facts and rumors and concluded that it was all true, even though his novel is a work of fiction.
The romance is three-sided: Christine Daae, a young and dazzling soprano, from Sweden; Rauol, Christine’s childhood friend, who now professes his intense love for Christine; and the Opera Ghost, whom Christine calls her Angel of Music, who also professes his everlasting love for Christine.
Drumright says, “Rauol offers romance, but the Phantom offers passion.”
In Leroux’s beginning pages, Christine sings in place of Carlotta, who had failed to show for a performance, and Christine brings down the house. The audience is astonished at Christine’s voice, her exceptional talent, and wonders why she has not sung before.
Seated in the audience that evening is Rauol, a young man who recognizes Christine as a childhood friend. After the performance, he goes to her backstage room and is about to knock on the door, when he hears a conversation between Christine and a man, both inside the room.
The man says, “Christine, you must love!” She replies, “How can you talk like that? When I sing only for you!” He says, “Your soul is a beautiful thing, child. The angels wept tonight.”
Christine leaves the room, fails to see Rauol, who then steps into the room, wanting to meet and confront this mysterious man, whom he now despises, but the room is empty. When Rauol confronts Christine about the man in her room, she is vague, evasive, not forthcoming with information.
Gothic horror novels are “expected to be dark and tempestuous and full of ghosts, madness, outrage, superstition, and revenge.” Drumright says, “this tale contrasts ugliness with elegance, genius with madness, and ruthlessness with compassion.”
In 1984, Andrew Lloyd Weber, a Broadway musical producer, famed for “Cats,” was busy writing a different musical, when he found a copy of Leroux’s long-out-of-print novel in a second-hand store.
Lloyd Weber said, “I realized that the reason I was hung up was because I was trying to write a romantic story. With the Phantom, it was there.” The musical producer transformed Leroux’s novel into a spectacular musical extravaganza.
Drumright says that Andrew Lloyd Weber’s stage version of Leroux’s novel is now considered “the most successful musical of all time.”
But, “Phantom of the Opera,” Broadway’s longest-running show ever, after 35 years, will close on February 18, 2023, with a record 13,925 performances. “It has sold nearly 20 million tickets and grossed $1.3 billion.” “This winter the Phantom will haunt the Paris Opera house for the last time.”
I will say that Andrew Lloyd Weber’s music is haunting. The “Overture” features a pipe organ solo with crashing chords that step up the musical scale and then step back down. Think Vincent Price and Edgar Allen Poe. The two most admired songs are “All I Ask of You,” and “Music of the Night.”
In that latter song, the masked Phantom sings his love to Christine.
“Nighttime sharpens, heightens each sensation. Darkness stirs and wakes imagination. Silently the senses abandon their defenses. . . . Let the dream begin, let your darker side give in, To the power of the music that I write. The power of the music of the night.” It is haunting.
Of Leroux’s novel, one critic pointed out that it is a story of “a misunderstood monster who only needs love,” a nod to “Beauty and the Beast.” Another said of the Phantom, “He had a heart that could have held the entire empire of the world; and in the end, he had to content himself with a cellar.”
Have a safe and happy—if not a Phantom-filled—Halloween! “Let the dream begin.”