This is a continuation of my journey into musicals (previous musicals).
The Phantom of the Opera was composed by Andrew Lloyd Weber, with lyrics by Tim Rice. The musical is based on the book by French author Gaston Leroux, published in 1910. Laroux wanted to become a lawyer, but luckily for us he gambled his inheritance away and became a reporter instead. As a reporter he learned of rumors surrounding a ghost living in the Paris opera house. He combined these rumors with true stories of a chandelier crashing down during a performance and an underground lake (there is indeed a lake under the opera house) and turned them into a novel, which was first published in a newspaper and then as a book. Until his death Laroux was convinced that the ghost living in the opera house was real.
The Phantom of the Opera is the ultimate gateway drug to opera. At times, except for more modern instrumentation, you really cannot tell the difference between this musical and an opera. I’ve seen this musical performed live half a dozen times, and every single time I leave the theater touched, as if I have watched it for the first time. I’d argue this is Andrew Lloyds Weber’s greatest creation.
The Phantom of the Opera is at its core a love story. Christine Daaé is a little-known soprano. From a young age she secretly takes music lessons from Erik – she calls him “Angel of Music” – who is the phantom of the opera, a ghost who lives in the entrails of the opera house and who has a deformed face (thus the mask he wears). The lead soprano calls in sick and Christine debuts at the gala performance to a great success. There she meets her childhood friend Raoul, and they fall in love. Erik, who is in love with Christine, feels betrayed… and there is a lot of jealousy, drama, mystery, kidnapping, and some murder in between. This musical does however have a happy ending. Despite his being the antagonist of the story, you feel sorry for Erik, who in the end comes through as a hero (okay, a weak hero but hero nonetheless): His love for Christine is so strong that he puts her happiness above his own and lets her be with Raoul.
I have a very personal story associated with The Phantom of the Opera. In April 2018 then-13-year-old Hannah and I went on a two-day father-daughter trip to Washington DC to see the cherry blossoms. I love Washington DC in April; it is truly a magical place. We did the usual touristy things, visiting the Smithsonian and the Newseum (the museum of news); and up to that point the highlight of Hannah’s trip was scootering around DC. As we were getting ready to fly back to Denver, we learned that the Denver airport was closed due to a blizzard.
We were delighted.
Hannah and I took a train to NYC and spent two days in Manhattan. We visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art (I love the Impressionist and Flemish painter collections). We also did the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). (I keep going back to museums of modern art, not just in NY but in San Francisco as well, in the hope that one day I may truly enjoy them. Not yet, but I am hopeful. Hannah and I also rented bikes and rode them in Central Park. But the highlight of our NYC adventure was The Phantom of the Opera. This was Hannah’s first live musical. We were so energized after the performance that, holding hands, we played Phantom of the Opera on her iPhone, with shared AirPods, singing it while walking through Times Square. We hadn’t a care in the world. We were intoxicated by the music, and though surrounded by other tourists, we were deep in our own phantom world. If you ask Hannah what she remembers the most about our DC trip, she’ll tell you it was going to The Phantom of the Opera in NYC and singing it in Times Square.
Before we listen to excerpts from the musical, I must mention the 2004 Phantom of the Opera movie. It is a masterpiece. My favorite number in the movie, which highlights beautiful cinematography and singing, is called “Prima Donna,” about a character who is an overrated signer, masterfully played by Minnie Driver. As you watch it, note the counterpoint singing – performers singing arias independently of each other.
Now let’s get to the musical: