Entranced With The Phantom of the Opera
The Broadway musical The Phantom of the Opera is a masterpiece that has brought wonder, fascination, and magic to every person that views it. The members of the audience walk out of the theater feeling as if the Phantom has indeed visited them and connected their hearts to his. The majesty and wonder of this musical comes from deep within its depths to grasp the audience forever in its alluring portrayal of that Opera.
The scene is set from the moment the theatergoer walks into the theater. The story takes place from start to finish on a half lighted stage that creates a mystical darkness. Here, in the darkness of the theater anything can and will happen. It is almost an invitation the theatergoer to accept the darkest parts of what he or she is about to witness. The Bible describes why darkness is something that is as accepted as it is feared. It says in John 3 verse 19b, “…and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” The darkness covers up the evil deeds that man and in this particular case the Phantom does and yet it is intoxicating and enticing. Nowhere is this clearer than in the famous song “Music of the Night.” The darkness produces a menacing, erotic, and even sexual tension that the forces the audience to wonder what is happening in the shadows of the stage (Ilson, 349) and to want to be a part of it. The disorientation and the need to embrace the darkness becomes more forceful as the musical unfolds.
From the beginning sequence of the musical through to the very end the erotic nature is present on the stage. This was purposefully done by Lloyd Webber and Harold Prince. Prince
stated, “We realized that the real emotional pull of The Phantom is erotic. It can be found in Leroux's book and it is in our show, even in the scenery. The designs… are deliberately designed to evoke mystery and lend sensual texture (Ilson, 347).” This erotic tension is expressed in every aspect of the set from the Phantom’s lair to the stage curtains. It gives the feeling of mystery and uncertainty that pulls the viewer into its dimensions. One aspect that is used to bring this tension to the story is the music itself.
The music is erotic and sexual in almost every note and line. Prince says about his favorite song, the “Music of the Night,” that it is “very erotic…not explicit, but erotic… and audiences respond to that (Ilson, 347). He goes on to say why, “I love it when you don't have to disrobe people onstage or all that corny nonsense-when you can just let the seduction be in the mind and the relationship of two people (Wang, Internet).”
This haunting melody along with the other songs, surround and mesmerize a person and bring him into a world, into a story, that is able to reach into the heart and pull one into the story so fully that the music stays with each person long after the last chord has been played. The words of the songs reveal the story in such a way that it is impossible to separate the story from the music that is resonating deep inside of you. From forbidden love to attainable love, from control to its loss, and from isolation to acceptance, the music is the avenue for all of these themes in such a way that the story is no longer something to watch but something you have experienced right beside the people in that world. By combining these themes it is not surprise that The Phantom is the phenomenal success it is.
The most obvious of these themes is the isolation element. It is a strange, but lucky person, who has never in their life felt the pull of being isolated and separated from those around them. For some it is a pull that they do not resist, feeling as if it their punishment or a self inflicted exile. Those are the lucky ones for they can overcome their exile, but for others, it is an isolation of self-preservation, for to face those around them would mean ridicule and hate. At the worst end of this are those that have, as is often the schoolyard taunt, a face only a mother could love. For the Phantom, this taunt is lived out in a harsh reality. His self-imposed exile beneath the Opera House is in fact an exile of self-preservation. Which he laments in the song, “Down Once More,” as he goes into his underground labyrinth, “Why, you ask, was I bound and chained in this cold and dismal place? Not for any mortal sin, but the wickedness of my abhorrent face! (The Phantom, Soundtrack)”
Ian Jon Bourg, who has played the part of the Phantom, said, “A lot of people can relate to being the social outcast in some way… Certainly very few people can relate to it the way it affects the Phantom. A lot of people have felt outcast, alone, and put down; and even in a small way, that can be crippling (Cohen, 211).” Because of the universality of the feeling of isolation people can relate to the Phantom in such a way that grows as his life takes on the mystic quality of being exiled and yet being in power. This feeling of being in power is something that all those who have been left alone for life crave to achieve as well. Jon Bourg summed it up this way,
“He has suffered through a great deal and has managed through force of will to overcome a lot of that and be able to be in this place...in control and command his life, finally… Somehow through force
of will and talent and ability, music and magic, he's managed to overcome at least that. But he can't overcome his being ostracized by society… As much as he's created this whole persona that makes him presentable to the world, he is still ostracized (Cohen, 211).”
In short, the Phantom longs to be accepted and loved, which are desires imbedded in every human.
The Phantom’s isolation makes his sensuality all the more intoxicating to the audience. This along with the music’s sensual allure creates an invisible cord of connection from the viewer’s heart to that of the two main characters of Christine and the Phantom. The Phantom admits, “That fate which condemns me to wallow in blood has also denied me the joys of the flesh… (Cohen, 210).” He may not have experienced the ‘joy of the flesh,’ but just because he has never had sex does not mean that he does not know how to be sensual. The Phantom’s comes though his music and he allows the audience to know that through a very sensual and erotic way.
When Christine enters the picture and becomes the vehicle for the Phantom’s music, that sensuality has a more physical dimension (Cohen, 212). In describing the Phantom’s sexuality, Ian Jon Bourg explains, ”The music itself is the surrogate to the sexual component in his life. That's how he expresses himself physically. To [perform with her] and hear her sing his music is extremely intense… [to him] it would be like having sex. (Cohen, 212).” This view of sexuality is in its own way more alluring and binding than if the actual act was ever preformed.
The sensuality is also heightened because of Eric’s, or the Phantom’s, very real love for Christine. The music leaves
little doubt that his love is real. “Say you'll share with me one love, one lifetime... Lead me, save me from my solitude… Say you want me with you, here beside you ... Anywhere you go let me go too Christine…” the Phantom sings to her on stage (The Phantom, Soundtrack). At the end of the musical whatever doubts any audience members have are than erased in the final scene when Erik releases Christine to Raoul, choosing her happiness over his own, knowing full well that by losing Christine he is exiling himself once again to a life of solitude in a dark and lonely world (Hernandez, 90-91). His pure love endears him to the audience, even amidst his terrifying actions. Christine claims not to love him, and yet she is infatuated with whoever she believes he is, as in seen in “Angel of Music,” and many of the other songs.
In Leroux’s book, which the play is based on Raoul laments this very fact, “You most certainly do love him. Your fear, your terror, all of that is still love and of the most delicious kind. The kind that you can't even admit to yourself... The kind that gives you a thrill every time you think of it... (243).” This forbidden love contrasts to Christine and Raoul’s love of “All I Ask of You.” And it is this love that the Phantom bows to for Christine’s happiness in the end. For after a kiss farewell Raoul takes Christine away and the Phantom disappears from the scene but not from Christine’s heart or the hearts of those in the theater.
The Phantom of the Opera truly focuses around the Phantom and despite his killings it is with him that our loyalties lie. His dashing and seductive manner makes him very hard to resist, though it is the rare theatergoer that tries too. These manners come through not only in his actions, words and music, but also in the very names he possesses. They are a combination that is rarely seen, but used here amazingly well.
Erik is not only the Phantom of the Opera, but he is also the Opera Ghost, and the Angel of Music. Combining these three brings in a whole new world to the musical. The angel carries with it the concept of a messenger of God, or a person who performs great acts of kindness, or a person whose actions and thoughts are undeviatingly virtuous, according to the dictionary (Urdang, 51). Christine calls the Phantom her “Angel of Music” and he calls her the same. Yet the Phantom is also called “A ghost of terrifying nature, a person of illusionary power or status, an appearance or allusion without material substance (Urdang, 995).” A final name for the phantom is the Opera Ghost, which carries its own meanings for this spiritual being, such as, “the soul of a dead person, a disembodied spirit imagined as wondering among or haunting living persons, (Urdang, 555).” The stark contrast of the angel to that of the Phantom and ghost in a single person adds an amazing mysticism that enhances the attraction to the audience.
Though people relate to the other characters in this musical, such as the theater owners, Raoul, and Christine, it is mainly the Phantom that people identify with. Perhaps this is because it is the Phantom that most of the ideas and themes of the musical center around. Lloyd Webber reduces the horror of the Phantom’s acts and instead focuses more on the erotic romantic relationships of The Phantom of the Opera. His music resonates in the each theater attendee as a way to look on the human aspects of the Phantom and therefore to also look beyond the horrible acts that the Phantom commits. After his final act of love, allowing Christine to leave with Raoul, and seeing the pain that this causes Erik, it is easy for the audience to forgive this broken man anything. And throughout the theater there is a feeling of wanting to stop not only the Phantom’s pain, but also the pain that the astute audience member feels for him.
Perhaps Leroux said it best in his original work,
“Poor, unhappy Erik! Should we pity him? Should we curse him? He only wanted, as we all do, to be somebody. But he was just too physically repulsive. He had to either hide his genius or use it to play tricks. Had he been born normal, he would have been one of the noblest members of the human race! His heart was big enough to contain the entire empire of the world, yet in the end, he had to be content with a cellar. Without a doubt then, we must pity the Phantom of the Opera (Leroux, 497-498).”
And yet, even this great achievement is only a part of The Phantom of the Opera’s popularity and its reason for such a long run. The music, isolation, sexuality, erotic nature, darkness, mysticism, angel, phantom, ghost, and the relationship of Raoul, Christine and the Phantom all contribute and still this list is not exhaustive. The Phantom’s popularity cannot be limited to any one factor, but in all its facets and forms, whether through real situations or imagined, people relate to The Phantom of the Opera. In this relation they find a personal connection to the Phantom himself, for in pity and more importantly in love they can rest assured that the Phantom will live on forever in the hearts of those who love the theater and love especially the timeless tale of The Phantom of the Opera.
The Bible. New American Standard Version.
Cohen, Eileen and Dawn Fortner. “Ian Jon Bourg Interview: Does Ian Jon Bourg Write His Own Notes...?” POTO: The Phantom of the Opera Magazine. The Millennium Issue Collector's Edition, 2000. 210-212.
Hernandez, Carrie. "Similarities Between the Phantom and Acknowledged Religious Figures," POTO: The Phantom of the Opera Magazine. The Millennium Issue Collector's Edition, 2000: 90-91 & 287-288.
Ilson, Carol. Harold Prince from Pajama Game to Phantom of the Opera. UMI Research Press, London: 1989
Leroux, Gaston. The Phantom Of The Opera. Dorset Press, New York: 1988.
The Phantom of the Opera Soundtrack. Down Once More and the Point of no Return. Polygram Records,2001
Wang, James. September 27, 1999. Salt Lake Tribune. May 5, 2004
Urdang, Laurence. The Random House College Dictionary Revised Edition. Ed. Random House: New York, 1988
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