The Phantom of the Opera (1984)

     by Ken Hill

          starring Peter Straker, Christina Collier & Steven Pacey

This musical has a scandalous and indignant history when it comes to Phantom materials. As the story goes, Ken Hill wrote and put this on starting in the late seventies (it was later rewritten with entirely new music and put back on in 1984; hence the date), and it was reasonably successful - enough that some dudes by the names of Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber happened to come see it. Supposedly, they told Hill afterward that they really liked it and wanted to discuss doing a joint revamp of the piece for the big stages... but somehow, somewhere, they wandered off and wrote a completely different one instead. And never called, even after that nice dinner. The cads.

 

Not being one to nurse a grudge, Hill has expressed some disappointment and sadness for this snubbing, but generally seems unconcerned with the whole affair (his fans are indignant on his behalf instead, as his original musical is almost completely eclipsed by the much larger, more spectacular one). Predictably, fans of Lloyd Webber's musical often hate this one (when they're aware of its existence, which is seldom) while fans of Hill's generally think Lloyd Webber's is overdone and grandiose.

 

Hill's show does some very interesting things that are, as far as I know, still unique in the world of Phantom adaptations. For one thing, rather than writing an entirely new score, he uses arias and scenes from operas that would have been performed in the time period and sets new lyrics to them, thus very handily preserving a good aural sense of the music Leroux was referring to in his novel while still making things interesting for a modern audience. He also takes a very tongue-in-cheek approach to the subject of operas in general, mercilessly mocking the posturing and primping and egomaniacal excesses that are so often attributed to opera patrons and performers; yet, at the same time, he paints an unshakable, extremely eerie portrait of the Phantom and his hidden world beneath the opera house, one that quite literally sends chills up and down the listener's spine. The extreme dichotomy between the two worlds not only embraces that basic concept from Leroux's novel, that the opera house and the world below it are separate kingdoms tied together only by Christine, but also allows each little universe to enhance the other with its presence, so that the Phantom's lair seems even more mysterious and frightening when compared to the silliness above, and the opera house seems titanically ridiculous when we know what lurks just beneath it.

 

A few other key changes are made to Leroux's text, most notably for Raoul. Raoul is not a vicomte in this version, but rather the son of one of the new opera managers; this is a clever move on Hill's part because it neatly removes the very large, nigh-insurmountable barrier of class when it comes to Raoul's and Christine's romance. A vicomte could never marry an opera girl, which at the time would be considered equivalent to marrying a sex worker; it would be social suicide, and not only would his family strongly discourage such an act, possibly to the point of disowning him, but if he did go through with it the entire family would very likely have been shunned and all hope of social status lost. A working class man's son, on the other hand could get away with it (though it would still have been looked on as a foolish move on his part). The change removes some of the friction and romantic hopelessness of the relationship, as well as removing Christine's monetary and social motivation for choosing to accept Raoul's advances; this changes the dynamic of Christine's choice, as she is now choosing Raoul out of sincere love and not out of a desire for social stability and comfort (though the element of security in Raoul's non-threatening character as compared to the Phantom's is still very much present, of course).

 

Like the last musical review we saw in these here parts, I'm going to break it down by the songs, though it should be noted that there is quite a bit of dialogue going on between these that joins up the scenes so that it flows much more nicely.

 

Introduction:

 

The introduction is creepy, y'all. Verrrry creepy. It's ominous, but very subtle in its menace, using soft dynamics and understated instruments to create a stealthy, prickly kind of nervousness in the audience. The Phantom's frightening, menacing character is often downplayed in favor of romance in later versions, so it's very refreshing to see someone really commit to scaring our pants off. And, hoo boy - when the Phantom suddenly whispers in the audience's ears seemingly out of nowhere, I defy anyone not to at least shift uncomfortably in their seat (or, if you're a wuss like me, whimper). The ventriloquism of Leroux's original character is very ingeniously incorporated into a stage show, as the Phantom's whisper is, of course, loud enough to be heard by everyone but certainly seems like a secretive voice just popping beside your ear. His only line here, "I don't exist," is both a statement of his vision of himself as a non-entity (or at least, treated as a non-entity by society) and a somewhat mocking warning to the audience (because, of course, we know he does exist and frankly is pretty damn creepy).

 

As a side note, I was sad to note that a synthesizer is used in several parts of this musical instead of real instruments, but I am forced to remind myself that it's a smallish show with a small orchestra, and that not everybody can afford a 46-piece string section. Nevertheless, I would love to hear it will full orchestra someday.

 

Welcome, Sir, I'm So Delighted:

 

The music for this first piece is from the duet "Jamais, foi de Cicerone" from Offenbach's La Vie Parisienne; the original duet involves two men of questionable moral character welcoming in some people that they are intending to hoodwink. Hill uses the piece to welcome the new opera manager, Richard, into the fold, and the origin is all the more entertaining as the lines of the various opera house denizens make it clear that they're desperately attempting to conceal the Phantom's shenanigans from their new manager until he's signed the paperwork. The lyrics are a hilarious parody of the theatre in general and opera in particular, right down to the tenors getting into a catfight and various people indulging in name-calling and attempts to keep up the facade of professionalism.

 

Even this early in the piece we can see why a lot of people aren't particularly fond of this adaptation of the story - just as the music in the Julian/Chaney film confuses people who are used to much later dramatic and verismo styles of composition, so the classical opera here is very, well... operatic. No one could mistake this for anything but classical opera, which puts off many a listener who is unprepared for it. Personally, I found that it made the parody all the more acute, and that classical recitative-style duets are excellent for exposition and for a nice, brisk pace (which is what the majority of classical opera is designed for, anyway). The music could not be further from the anxious, mysterious spine-tingling of the introduction; the opera house is full of bombastic vigor and bright lights, a stage world full of illumination and forceful personalities.

 

Accursed All Base Pursuit of Earthly Pleasures:

 

The music here comes from Gounod's Faust, the dramatic "Maudites soyez-vous" in which Faust bemoans his having missed out on all the joys of youth. This is actually performed as part of the opera Faust, which is being put on by the opera house throughout the course of the musical, just as it is in Leroux's novel. I enjoyed the fact that you could hear the orchestra tuning in the background; most shows don't bother with tiny realistic touches like that, even though orchestras that don't tune right before they play pretty much don't exist and/or are out of tune. The realism of the handling helps the opera seem like a show being put on, rather than making you all the more conscious of the fact that you're already watching a show; too often, the play-within-a-play device yanks audiences out of the zone, but this manages not to do so.

 

Hill's Phantom obviously has quite a sense of showmanship - he kills the singer playing Mephistopheles just as he is supposed to enter, and it is probably not a coincidence that the Phantom chooses to make his move just as the devil is supposed to make his entrance in the opera. It should be noted that the Phantom is less sympathetic and more of a dangerous force on a rampage in Hill's version - as far as we know, Mephistopheles hasn't approached Christine or otherwise done anything to annoy the "ghost", but he is killed anyway as a show of power for the new manager who has been ignoring the Phantom's demands (and possibly out of pique that everyone keeps pretending that he doesn't exist). As usual with Hill's show, there is humor even in the murder scene ("Is he dead?" "Very dead, sir."), but the intrusion of those same eerie violin squeals and atmospheric motifs, however briefly, into the the opera house has the effect of showing those two worlds intersecting for a moment or two. The idea is effectively unnerving, as it suggests that the warm, secure world of the opera house can be invaded and destroyed at any moment by that dark, sinister world beneath it (typified, of course, by one man: the Phantom).

 

How Dare She?:

 

Hill's version of Raoul is not always very bright, but he has a bit more of a backbone than Leroux's original, being somewhat less prone to tears and histrionic recriminations and more likely to shout in frustration. His actor, Steven Pacey, has both a very lovely operatic voice and a spot-on delivery of the character, sounding almost hysterical in his anger, projecting a very convincing amount of youthful emotion. His outraged mini-aria here is the fiery "O inferno! Amelia qui!" from Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, which is sung by a jealousy-tortured hero who believes his love to be at the house of another man - obviously appropriate to the scene. Despite Raoul's downgraded social status in this version, he is very aware of the societal proprieties of the time, most especially that it is absolutely improper for Christine to have a man unsupervised in her dressing room, and he leaps, of course, to the natural conclusion that she is having an affair. It is refreshing to see an author or composer take note of what would be a very real scandal of the time period - too often, Raouls who are vicomtes still barely bat an eyelash at what would probably seem to them to be mortifying behavior on Christine's part.

 

Despite all this bluster, however, we are aware that Raoul will not follow through on his threats to leave Christine or do any serious bodily harm to her and her lover, so even the anger that appears at first glance to give his character a little more strength ultimately undermines him when we know it to be mere huffing and puffing. Interestingly, Raoul here takes on many of the traditional ideas associated with the Phantom: he threatens murder when Christine is apparently scorning him, howls that this is how she has "repaid him", and generally seems like a controlling asshole himself (though, of course, he will not hurt anything larger than a fly throughout the course of the show). One has to wonder if this slight blurring of the two characters together is intended to give Raoul a bit more forcefulness, in order to encourage us as an audience to root for him instead of the mysterious, frightening, but nevertheless very commanding Phantom.

 

The end of this song tickles me, as after all that shouting and railing he devolves back into the weepy Raoul of Leroux's novel after all. Such is the lovestruck young gentleman.

 

Late Last Night, I'm in the Cellars:

 

The Groom (who isn't cool enough to get a name, but who would probably be named Buquet if he were) sings this little expository piece using the music from "Son lo spirito che nega", from Boito's Mefistofele, another Faust-based opera of slightly earlier origin than Gounod's. The devil's explanation of his nature turns here into the Groom's explanation of how a horse was stolen by the Phantom last night, and how the stables and the other areas beneath the opera are haunted; unfortunately for said Groom, the manager isn't having it and fires him for drinking and negligence. While nothing particularly stunning happens musically, the Groom's awe and the zeal with which he attempts to force Richard to believe him illustrate the firm belief of the average opera denizen in the Phantom, encouraging us to view him (at least for now) as a supernatural creature.

 

Love Has Gone, Never Returning:

 

This song is based on the lovelorn aria "Elle a fui, La Tourturelle" from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman, althougit was later replaced in the show by "All My Dreams Faded Suddenly", which was set to Dvorak's "Mesicku na nebi hlubokem" from the opera Rusalka; sadly, no recordings of the new piece exist, which is a shame as that particular aria is widely regarded to be one of the most beautiful soprano pieces in the repertoire. Christine sings it as she's wandering in the graveyard; it is partly a reference to her deceased father, whom she continues to miss, and partly a lament over Raoul's rejection of her (he's still upset about that thinks-she's-cheating-on-him thing). There is, of course, a touch of irony inherent since we're perfectly aware that she's going to be finding love with Raoul rather than losing it, but the music has a very sweet, gentle quality of longing to it that keeps the scene genuine, and the oboe solo is absolutely gorgeous.

 

This is one of the few places in the entire show when Christine is really allowed to appear in the music as a character; most of the time, she is eclipsed by the frightening grandeur of the Phantom's influence or the overblown, overbusy glory of the opera house, which is directly parallel to her inability to control her own destiny (this waffling does not extend to the singer, Christina Collier, who has excellent operatic chops and isn't afraid to use them). Raoul, who has been following her in case she gets up to other shenanigans, appropriately feels like a heel after hearing this. The subtle drumroll at the end of the piece is a gentle foreshadowing of what's going to come next - namely, the Phantom making his move.

 

While Floating High Above:

 

The Phantom's first outright revelation as a singer is stunning. The music helps--"Je crois entendre encore" from Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles (better known to English speakers as The Pearl Fishers) is one of the most hauntingly beautiful duets in classical opera - but the real show-stealer is Peter Straker with his amazing tenor vocals (note that in classical opera, the hero is almost always a tenor and the villain a baritone; by making the Phantom a tenor, Hill casts doubt on his status as a villain at the same time as he makes it more plausible for Christine to be taken in by his spooky charms). He keeps things light and sweet, the gorgeous sound sometimes so ambivalent that we have a hard time telling if he's singing full-voiced or falsetto; its haunting beauty is fitting for the "angel" he is impersonating, but the funereal pace and the occasional flutters in the instrumentation give us the tiniest inkling of a hidden menace, and the lyrics (which seem to be predicting his own death and Christine's joining him in that eternity) certainly add to that feeling of impending tragedy. All of the orchestration is understated, from the strings switching between soft sustained notes and gentle pizzicato plucking to the soft, unintrusive volume of the percussion, and the effect, despite its beauty, further removes this aria from the world of the opera house. The opera house's musical characteristics are warm, wild, and lively; the Phantom's aria, despite its otherworldly loveliness, is cold.

 

She Says She's Got the Nodules:

 

Then (after an abortive attempt by the Phantom to kill Raoul in the graveyard), we plunge right back into the flamboyant world of the opera house with this song, which uses the music from "A Paris nous arrivons en masse" from Offenbach's La Vie Parisienne again (the original aria is a cheerful song from a billionaire spendthrift who doesn't mind losing his money in the least, which is entertainingly ironic in view of the managers' desperation here). The song is hilarious, poking fun at the overly dramatic world of the theatre and its plethora of overdramatic people, from Carlotta declaring that she has a rare disease and cannot sing the big show to the tenors once more squabbling limp-wristedly with one another and her.

 

It's interesting to note here that in this production Christine really does have a stronger voice than Carlotta (Tracy Gillman is no slouch, but her role calls for her to downplay her voice, and Collier is dynamite), which lends a little bit of credence to the Phantom (who in many versions is simply playing favorites). Richard doesn't want his son associating with an opera girl who is thought to be a bit on the loose side (of course, Christine's reputation is the result of jerks making assumptions rather than anything she's done herself), but he is forced to compromise with his diva and allow Christine to stay and sing the show for Carlotta, who plans to simply mime and lip-sync it and then bask in the adulation of the audience. They hope to circumvent the Phantom's instructions - he told them that Christine must sing instead of Carlotta, which is technically going to be the case - in this way, which anyone could tell them is a bad idea, but part of the parody of the theatre is this regrettable tendency to make terrible decisions.

 

What Do I See?:

 

The famous "jewel aria" from Gounod's Faust, "Que voice-je là?", is the scene in which the Phantom decides to make his displeasure known. Christine sounds quite lovely singing the aria, but Carlotta is making a botch of the miming and is obviously out of sync with the vocals, confusing the audience and enraging the Phantom when he realizes Christine is hidden below in the pit. Hill's Raoul seems more credulous than his original counterpart in Leroux's novel - certainly, he's worried sick about Christine and attempting to convince his father and the cast that this is all a bad idea - but these rather immediate worries get railroaded to the side as his father would instead prefer to have a serious conversation about the impropriety of his son's love life. Poor Richard walks the line of fatherhood convincingly, both disapproving and resignedly accepting of his son's choice.

 

All of this becomes rather secondary, however, when Christine suddenly faints mid-aria and the famous croaking toad sound occurs, seemingly from the horrified Carlotta; the change is interesting in that it punishes Christine for her collusion in thwarting the Phantom's wishes (he drugged her, causing the faint) at the same time that it punishes Carlotta, making it clear that even the Phantom's pretty protege is not immune to his wrath. This climactic scene is also where we start to realize how well and truly unstable the Phantom is; his unsettling giggles and wild screams as he destroys the performance would creep even the Joker out. When he announces that the chandelier will fall and it begins to sway ominously, terrifying the crowd below, it is absolutely spine-tingling when he hisses gleefully, "No, not that one... this one," and flattens Carlotta with a different light fixture.

 

This is not a misunderstood, tortured figure; the Phantom is a dangerous menace, completely out of control and with no regard for human life, and he is absolutely terrifying because of it. Unlike Leroux's Phantom, who made sure the managers knew that events were attributable to his having been disobeyed but who otherwise preferred to stay out of the public eye, Hill's Phantom wants everyone to know who he is, and has no qualms about making himself known, possibly because he is too far gone in megalomania to conceive of himself ever being caught or stopped.

 

To Pain My Heart Selfishly Dooms Me:

 

The final quartet (or sextet, depending on the version) of Offenbach's Le Contes d'Hoffman, "Adieu! Je ne veux pas te suivre, Fantôme", is originally a condemnation and cursing of love and romance led by a man betrayed by his lover; it is, of course, appropriate here as the Phantom overhears Raoul and Christine declaring their love for one another and joins in, pained by her betrayal. The ominous tone of the Phantom's displeasure is set even before the piece begins, with that same rushing wind sound and the slowly encroaching percussion that we have by now come to associate with his presence. The Phantom is clearly torn between love and hate for Christine, and his inability to process strong emotions without violence is again evident in his knee-jerk, almost childish reactions to everything she does; she clearly has power over him, or at least he believes she does as he claims that he cannot control himself anymore when it comes to her.

 

The love song being a trio here instead of a duet is a very powerful unifying idea, which I think was a stroke of genius on Hill's part; it suggests that the three of them are inextricably snarled in their love triangle, rather than making it a love between Christine and Raoul with the Phantom as an outsider. The three of them are linked in a threesome of tragic, romantic mess, which is a very powerful image and helps bring a further element of sympathy to the Phantom's character.

 

Entr'Acte:

 

The Entr'Acte here is a reiteration of the Phantom's graveyard aria, "While Floating High Above", but its character has changed slightly. The flutes now seem frantic and the drums menacing, while the increased pace and accenting of the entire piece suggests an urgency that presages the Phantom's final desperate actions in the second act. It's subtle, but effective nevertheless.

 

Ah, Do I Hear My Lover's Voice?

 

The opera house struggles gamely on, still trying to perform Faust, but with Christine now in the lead role of Marguerite (since Carlotta is a smear on the footboards). She begins to sing "Ah! C'est la voix!", which Marguerite sings as she hears the voice of her lover, Faust, approaching, but surprise! The lights go out and she disappears. The Phantom's choice to abduct her during that particular aria is unsurprising, as he certainly identifies with Faust as a damned man, and considers himself Christine's proper lover; Faust is rescuing Marguerite and taking her to Heaven with him, so the Phantom "rescues" Christine in the hopes that things will work out the same way. Christine's scream as she is abducted is shrill, but it's the ghostly echo of a whinny - presumably Cesar, the stolen horse - that gives us our sudden intrusion of the Phantom's world into the opera house again.

 

No Sign! I See No Sign!:

 

As the cast begins to rush around in a panic, looking for the missing diva, the humor ramps up again with the Phantom's departure. Madame Giry's fortunetelling and tea-leaf-reading is ridiculous, poking fun at all the occult nonsense often associated with the Phantom story (particularly in Leroux's original novel) and at the legendary superstition of the average theatre worker or performer of that age (it's fun to note that here, unlike most other versions, Giry is just as superstitious as Leroux painted her, though of course she is still not a supporter of the Phantom but in opposition to him like everyone else). Everyone half believes Giry's laughably inconclusive "findings", leading to more silliness, while Richard is forced to take on the role filled in Leroux's novel by Philippe and support his son in his desperate search for his lady love. This piece uses music from two sources--von Weber's Der Freischütz donates the frantic "Du weißt daß, meine Frist" as the cast and crew search for Christine, while the fortune-teller's aria "Rè dell 'abisso, affrettati" from Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera lends itself to Madame Giry's pompous diviniations.

 

The Lake:

 

Switching effortlessly from the bombastic excitement of the opera house, the instrumental introduction of the Phantom's underground kingdom is incredibly haunting. It is ghostly but beautiful, markedly different from the goings-on above, and serene in its quietude, suggesting the isolation and solitude of this place. Another lovely oboe solo makes an appearance, its forlorn notes suggestive of loneliness despite the beauty surrounding it, while the synthesized chorus in the background give the scene a haunted feel without adding any feeling of companionship. Fear asserts itself in small piano spurts now and then, never quite letting the serene beauty of the place remain untroubled, while the flutes echo this nervousness and also ape a lonely, windy sound. Christine's innocence reaches its heartbreaking end here as she realizes that her "angel" has broken his promise to let her go after one more performance, and even as he ties her to the dock and rows silently away again, she continues to beg for explanation, wanting desperately to believe in his benevolence.

 

Somewhere Above, the Sun Shines Bright:

 

Christine sings this forlorn aria, based on "Non so le tetre immagini" from Verdi's Il Corsaro, as she finds herself tied up and alone in the Phantom's underworld; the loneliness and similar orchestration, pacing, and execution of the aria resemble the Phantom's pieces very closely, underscoring the fact that she is now finding herself in his plight (buried alive, without human contact, doomed to solitude in his underground world). She doesn't understand this parallel (which it seems likely the Phantom probably wanted her to), but her voice is still extremely lovely.

 

Born With a Monstrous Countenance:

 

The daroga (remember him? He was in Leroux's novel! Look, someone remembered him!) uses the music from Verdi's Attila, "Mentre gonfiarsi l'anima", to reveal the Phantom's origin and past to a spellbound and horrified opera house; the piece was originally the narration of a nightmare, so it's not much of a stretch at all to change it to the narration of a waking horror. As in Leroux's version, there really isn't much setup or reason when the daroga is plunked into the story - he's still a deus ex machina, but he does provide some much-needed explication for the audience and finally sets the Phantom as a mortal, concrete entity rather than an actual ghost.

 

The daroga clearly feels some sympathy for the Phantom, just as he does in Leroux's novel, but the Phantom's refusal to accept the daroga's help and abandonment of him to die further condemns a character that was already pretty darn indifensible. In deference to the daroga, the music here occasionally has a modal, eastern flavor, but the majority of it remains very much in the classical opera vein. I made a note that says, "What is up with the daroga's accent?" because it sounded rather odd to me, but since I'm not sure what a Persian accent should have sounded like in that time period, I can't really complain too much.

 

Trapped!:

 

This little instrumental aside, which illustrates the panic of the opera house denizens at discovering that they've been trapped in a boiler room by the Phantom, is appropriately frantic; the strings and syncopation are very urgent, and also seem to be much more modern in style than the 19th-century opera that makes up most of the piece. It is more practical and realistic for the Phantom to trap his pursuers in a boiler room and heat it until they die than Leroux's mirrored torture room would have been, but it also diminishes the Phantom slightly; he's using a part of the opera house for his work, instead of something that he built himself, and the change makes him more of a denizen of the opera house himself than its controller or creator.

 

What an Awful Way to Perish:

 

The music used here is "Chi mi frena in tal momento" from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, the famous sextet in which no one is saying the same thing at the same time. This mish-mash of a sextet is appropriate both for the frantic fear the characters are experiencing at their imminent demise and the completely hysterical nature of this piece. Pushed to the end of their ropes by the knowledge that they're about to die, the inhabitants of the opera house become completely ridiculous, making absolute fools of themselves under pressure. Richard and Madame Giry suddenly discover and declare that they are madly in love, which exchange is hilarious, and Raoul's constant repetition of the line, "At least we died like Frenchmen!" is priceless. The piece is utter chaos, and very, very funny.

As a side note, little Jammes is given a largish role in Hill's musical, mainly for purposes of exposition; she doesn't have much impact, but it's interesting to see someone choose Jammes instead of Meg for the made-up explanatory role.

 

Ne'er Forsake Me, Here Remain:

 

This is the Phantom's big moment, when he returns to beg for Christine's love; he continues his identification with Goethe's hero by borrowing the music for this aria from "Avant de quitter ces lieux", the famous aria from Gounod's Faust. The orchestration and introduction are again quiet and eerie, evocative of a still, dark sort of beauty completely at odds with the colorful world of the opera house. This piece is much more in a major mode than anything else the Phantom sings in the show, indicative of the depth of his feelings and his final arrival at true, human emotion: love, warmth, etc. are all invoked. His tenor voice is amazing, and the instrumentation is the same as his previous pieces but now turned, for once, to more human pursuits, which makes the supplicant, begging love song all the more tragic when Christine rips his mask off at the end. His scream is pure torture, and it's very obvious that his facial deformity and the trials in his life caused by it are the root cause of his behavior.

 

Ne'er Forsake Me, Here Remain (Reprise):

 

As Christine sings the reprise here, taking over from the Phantom's limping voice, it seems suddenly obvious to the listener that the gentle, warm major aria was intended for her to sing all along, a fact which increases our sympathy for the twisted but finally human man who created it for her. The song fits her voice much better than his, and their duet as he lies dying is heartbreaking. His death now still allows for his redemption, as he has chosen her life over his, but it heightens the tragedy to see him die rather than to know that he is simply living alone as in Leroux's novel.

 

He Will Not Go Without a Friend:

 

The final moments of the show see the cast singing "Alla vita è sempre ugual" from Mozart's Don Giovanni (of course, a nod toward the Leroux's Phantom and his Don Juan) in a gentle, funereal vein; the original aria is sung as the cast ponders the moral of Don Giovanni's tragic fate, and here the usage is the same, as the characters pay homage to the obvious moral: that even in the most twisted, terrible of people there is some spark of good to be found. The quiet, contemplative beauty of the underground gives way immediately as the characters reach the surface and burst back into operatic splendor, already able to forget and deal with the sadness and horrors below as they would have any problem on the surface.

 

Play-Out:

 

The little play-out interlude is, surprisingly, eerie and atmospheric, not exciting as you would generally expect the music at the end of a show to be; this presages the epilogue to come. The version of "Ne'er Forsake Me, Here Remain" reiterated here is interestingly much more "Phantom-y" than the version he actually sang, with a greater sense of creepiness attached.

 

Epilogue:

 

The Epilogue repeats the Phantom's original song, "While Floating High Above", reminding us of the heyday of his reign and the mystery attendant. The final strains suggest that the Phantom's soul will be reunited with Christine's after death despite the events that have just occurred; he is now a ghost in truth, and Christine, even though she has departed with her beloved Raoul, accepts that she will always be haunted by the memory of her "angel". The final vision we have of the romance is that Raoul and Christine will be together, but that Christine's soul will always, at least partially, belong to the Phantom, a strange and unsettling compromise.

 

You can have a lot of fun mocking the text of the musical scenes that occur in the opera house with the wide cast of bumbling opera singers and stagehands; much of it is frankly ridiculous, which Hill has stated was his intent. He is quoted as saying in an interview:

 

"During the period that the play is set, the age of grand French opera, some of the words got translated by some Victorian hacks, and you got some rather silly words to sing. I tried to recreate that. I tried to make the lyrics sound like bad Victorian translations of what were not very good operas in the first place. It's a bit subtle."

 

In which case it is rather silly to expect the lyrics of the opera house pieces to make much sense. They're part of the parody, so it's entirely reasonable for them to be silly beyond all expectation.

 

It's interesting to note that Sarah Brightman was actually invited to play the role of Christine in the original production by Hill, but she turned it down before going on to originate Christine in the Lloyd Webber version two years later (in fairness, she was married to Lloyd Webber, not Hill). Still, one has to wonder what it would have sounded like with a less operatic singer in the role. I think I prefer this turn of events; these are some heavy-duty arias, and required a heavy-duty, polished operatic soprano.

 

Unfortunately, we'll probably never know what the original version of this musical was like. The 1976 version with an original score by Ian Armit has completely vanished into the recesses of time, as it was never recorded and hasn't been performed in decades. Presumably the composers and various other people have scores somewhere, but, strangely, they have not yet arrived at my front door to ask me to peruse them.

 

Despite my whining, however, this is a great show. It's often called the "fun" version of Phantom, and I have to agree: far from bogging the show down in kitsch, the dichotomy between the campy silliness of the opera house and the menacing beauty of the underground only enhances each realm by comparison. It's a very clever handling of the story, and underrated; the operatic score may turn off modern theatre-goers who aren't prepared for it, but it enhances the story and brings the piece into the time period in a way few other versions have.

 

Addendum:  Thanks to some frankly awesome fans (props to Elisha!), I've had the opportunity recently to listen to a live recording of "All My Dreams Faded Suddenly", the piece that replaced "Love has Gone, Never Returning" in shows performed after my recording was made.  The lyrics to the newer song are darker and more despairing, and Christine's sad assertion that she feels something filled with "envy and cruel spite" that "[hates] whoever dares love" her speaks of a very real and present fear of the Phantom's influence over her and the threat he poses to those she cares about.  The original aria the song is based upon is very much juxtaposed against this one; Dvorak's aria is sung by a rusalka, a water spirit, who is praying to the moon to grant her wish to allow her to be with the one she loves, while this piece is concerned with loss, fear and ideas of impending death.  Then again, the rusalka of Dvorak's opera was desperately trying to be with the one she loved against all odds, so perhaps Christine, who is afraid for Raoul's safety, isn't totally out of the ballpark.  As she is visiting her father's grave, it's also worth examining whether she's speaking in a larger sense, not about her fears for Raoul's future but her sorrow over losing her father in the past, and that the dark force she mentions is a general metaphor for misfortune rather than directly referencing the Phantom.

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