January 2, 2019

The Different Narratives of the Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera has always been a childhood favorite of mine. I grew up singing Andrew Lloyd Webber's enchanting songs with my friends and family until I memorized most of them by heart. The more times that I re-watched the movie or went to see the musical, the more my heart broke for the poor Phantom who, because of his ugliness and dark personality, could never win the heart of Christine Daae. Out of the copious musicals I’ve seen in my lifetime, The Phantom of the Opera still remains near the top of my list!

It wasn’t until very recently that I came into contact with the other, lesser-known musical called Phantom which is also based on Gaston Leroux’s mysterious Phantom character. The musical by Yeston and Kopit was interestingly created and scheduled for release around the same time that Stilgoe and Webber released their musical. Because of the obvious success of Phantom of the Opera, Yeston and Kopit decided to shelve Phantom. But in recent years, more theatres are beginning to produce the previously hidden musical. Phantom is gaining public recognition after all, and the intriguing mystery of the Phantom continues to live on today!

My family and I enjoyed the incredible talent in the Westchester Theatre production of Phantom (Matthew Billman and Kayleen Seidl were phenomenal in their lead roles!), but what was more entertaining was finding out how the musical’s characters and plot differed from Webber’s well-known musical. For one, Kopit's character development was much richer, to the point where the Phantom wasn’t really mysterious at all to the audience. We learned about his youth, and even met his father!

There were plenty of stark differences between Yeston and Kopit’s musical compared to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical which I will list here (spoiler alert!):

  • The Phantom was never known as the “Angel of Music” to Christine, but was simply a mysterious man with a mask who offered to give her voice lessons when Carlotta would not offer them to her. 
  • The Phantom’s father was the previous manager of the Opera who still cared about Erik, but couldn’t bear to see his real, distorted face.
  • Christine’s father was never mentioned even though he was a crucial part of her background story in the other musical.
  • Raoul, Christine’s lover, ceased to exist in this musical! Instead, his brother, Count Philippe, was surprisingly her love interest.
  • Christine willingly stayed as a captive to Erik underground in order to better understand him. They even enjoyed a brief picnic together.
  • The Phantom killed Carlotta by electrocution when she refused to cave into his threats (yikes)!
  • Rather than magically disappear at the ending, the Phantom was devastatingly shot and killed by his own father when the police tried to arrest him.

After experiencing two different versions of the story which I had been emotionally tied to since my youth, of course I could no longer resist reading the original Gothic horror novel by Gaston Leroux. I’m happy to say that I very much enjoyed reading the book. Like originals usually are, I even found the story better than both of the unique musicals themselves!

Although I’m never a fan of horror, most of the story was not too gruesome for me to read (only towards the ending did it get very startling and suspenseful)! The one thing I was surprised to find after finishing the book was that I no longer harbored much pity or compassion for the Phantom. Instead, my heart went out to Christine and Raoul as they sought to hold onto their love for each other in the midst of the Phantom’s haunting threats and supposed omnipresence.

There are many elements in the original 1910 story that make it stand out from the two late 20th century musicals that were produced from it (another big spoiler alert!).

  • Webber’s musical paints the Phantom’s childhood as being enslaved to the circus. In the original story, Erik runs away from home at a young age to willingly join the circus. He becomes an expert ventriloquist and is commissioned to architect many trap doors in two castles in Asia Minor. Because he knows too much about the castles he helps to architect, he is always threatened by execution. Luckily, a man known in the story as the daroga or “the Persian” helps him to escape imminent death. Tired of facing threats in his work, Erik decides to live like “everybody else” and becomes a contractor in the Opera House during the beginning of its construction. Lured by the secluded, expansive underground of the Opera, he decides to live there so he can be free to compose music and so no one will have to look upon his hideous nature again. 
  • Gaston Leroux describes the Phantom to be quite hideous and fearsome, not just concerning his unnatural-looking face. His hands are bony and his face is not white but yellow. His eyes blaze a fiery gold in the darkness, his figure is ghastly thin, and what's most unfortunate: he always smells of death. If you ask me, that’s a stark contrast from the dashing-looking Gerard Butler as the Phantom in the movie version!
  • Christine is not the curly-haired brunette as most of us know her to be, but she is rather a blonde and blue-eyed Swedish girl who previously lived in the Scandinavia Region with her father before moving to France for private music lessons.
  • When Christine experiences her first shining moment as an opera singer, she ends her performance by dramatically fainting. The reader later finds out that this is because the Phantom has enchanted her to sing beyond what she can possibly fathom. She even sadly confesses: “I don’t know myself when I sing." When she finishes her piece, her soul becomes so exhausted that she feels that she might die. 
  • Raoul is not in love with Christine because of his enchantment by her angelic voice like the Phantom accuses him of in Webber’s musical. Raoul loved Christine the moment he saw her as a little boy. His adoration for her led him to swim into the sea and fetch her lost scarf despite the protests of his governess. From that point on, they became playmates and grew very fond of each other. Eventually, adulthood separated them for a while until Raoul saw Christine in the Opera Playhouse. To his surprise, she pretended not to know him when he entered her dressing room (unlike her warm reception of him in Webber’s musical). It took her a while to open up since she knew that the "Angel of Music" was jealous of her love for him.
  • Instead of being enthralled by the Phantom when she first meets him (and breaking out into song with him, might I add!), Christine is terrified of Erik since she discovers that her Angel of Music is actually a dark, mysterious man trying to kidnap her. If you ask me, I don’t blame her for her natural reaction! 
  • The Phantom never performs publicly with Christine but he does kidnap her in front of the audience (without him ever appearing) to make her his wife. The Persian, who once saved Erik's life, knows of his scheme and illusionist techniques so he decides to help the desperate Raoul find Christine in the Phantom’s underground labyrinth. Like Webber’s musical, Raoul is instructed to keep his hand “at the level of his eye,” but luckily never has to worry about the Phantom lassoing him to his death.
  • In the end, the Phantom dies of a broken heart. When Christine shows more affection to him than he could have ever fathomed possible (her kiss on his forehead shockingly makes him very emotional!), he decides to let her and Raoul go. He gives her his engagement ring “as a wedding gift” and makes them promise to return the ring and place it on his finger when he dies. They also respect his request to post an advertisement of his death in the local newspaper. When they do, it simply reads: “Erik is dead.” 

It was exciting to delve back into The Phantom of the Opera, one of my favorite musicals, and explore the other accounts of the famous and suspenseful story! There are aspects to each narrative that I like such as the more innocent and well-meaning Erik in the Phantom who never antagonized Christine, but only desired her love that could surpass the hideousness of his face. In Stilgoe and Webber's musical, I undoubtedly love the music that adds more emotion to the story. In Gaston Leroux's novel, I appreciate better understanding the story as a whole. One of the things in his novel that stood out to me was how desperately in love Raoul was with Christine. It made me pity him and almost convinced me that they were never meant to be together. But that made it all the more refreshing to have the story end with them eloping and living happily ever after.

The prime take-away from Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera is that the reader should ultimately pity the Phantom. Regardless of how different the musicals are from the original story, I'm sure that we can all agree: they both achieve this particular objective! To quote part of the ending from Leroux's classic novel:

"Poor, unhappy Erik! Shall we pity him? Shall we curse him? He asked only to be "some one," like everybody else. But he was too ugly! And he had to hide his genius or use it to play tricks with, when, with an ordinary face, he would have been one of the most distinguished of mankind! He had a heart that could have held the empire of the world; and, in the end, he had to content himself with a cellar. Ah, yes, we must needs pity the Opera ghost."

Do you pity the Phantom? Have you seen the movie, or the musicals? Let me know in the comments below!


TwitterYoutubeInstagram ⎪ Soundcloud

No comments

Post a Comment

© Madison Taylor | All rights reserved.
Blog Layout Created by pipdig