Based on the French novel by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera has been adapted many times. But it is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage and film musical which is arguably the most familiar to audiences.
In Webber’s version, the orphaned Christine Daae has been raised in a Parisian opera house where she also works as a dancer. But she has secretly been taking voice lessons from a tutor she only knows as the Angel of Music. When an accident occurs during rehearsal, Carlotta, the resident soprano, refuses to sing for opening night. This serves as Christine’s big break. She is a big success. This also brings her to the attention of the new patron of the opera house and her former childhood sweetheart, Raoul the Vicomte de Chagny.
Her public success and meeting with the Vicomte motivate her mysterious tutor to finally reveal himself to her as the Phantom of the Opera. He is not the ghost that the company thinks he is, but a highly disfigured man (both physically and emotionally) who lives beneath the opera house. But in spite of his kindness to Christine, the Phantom is a man to be feared. He will stop at nothing both to dictate the management of the opera house itself and to possess the lovely and innocent Christine.
These two goals put him on a direct collision course with Raoul and the managers of the opera. Christine herself remains conflicted. She loves Raoul, yet feels grateful to the Phantom. Plus, her ability to view him with compassion, as few people ever have, gives her empathy for a man whose physical violence continues to escalate. Who will win the battle for control of the opera house? Even more importantly, who will win the battle for Christine?
The production aspects of The Phantom of the Opera are stellar. The screen is filled with lush color, intricate settings, and stunning visual shots. It is a feast for the eyes almost too rich to consume. Furthermore, the song and dance numbers are beautifully choreographed. The costumes are creative and well suited to each character. Christine is normally clothed in virginal white which creates an obvious contrast with Carlotta, the opera diva who is draped in garish, vibrant colors.
The parts were also well cast. Minnie Driver plays the opera’s soprano diva as a delightfully over the top cliche. Emmy Rossum is perfect as the young, naive Christine Daae who becomes enthralled by the Phantom. Christine is not a character which has a lot of personality. It is a part which serves more as a contrast and emotional pinboard for the other characters. But Rossum plays that wide-eyed naivete with ease, while also managing to portray Christine’s fear, longing, grief and conflicted thinking. Not to mention, Rossum’s singing voice is as pure and beautifully crystal clear as her character.
Gerard Butler gives the Phantom a sexy rock star edge which is unique to this film. This was an intentional choice by Webber and one which I think helps to update his character to appeal to modern audiences.
There are many other talented familiar faces filling supporting roles which the viewer will be happy to see, including; Miranda Richardson, Patrick Wilson, Ciaran Hinds, Simon Gallow and Kevin McNally among them.
Of course, the music is certainly one of the highlights of both the film and the stage production. It is in equal measures alluring, haunting, eerie, quiet and soaring. From the romantic All I Ask of You to the jarring opening notes of Don Juan Triumphant, it creeps inside your heart. It is the music which makes Webber’s version of this classic tale so memorable.
In addition to being a romanticized musical, this is one of the few versions of The Phantom of the Opera that is not framed as a horror story. Yes, it is true. Most of the other versions envision the story as a horror film. This is probably more true to the author’s original intent. The Phantom has always been a villain. But Webber’s vision allows Christine and the viewer to empathize with a man whose cruel past has shaped him into a person who relies on violence and manipulation to get what he wants.
As much as I love The Phantom of the Opera, I do think it has a few flaws. One of the main issues I have with this story is the character of Raoul, the Vicomte. He is the other side of the love triangle involving the Phantom and Christine. He also acts as her rescuer or knight in shining armor. The only problem is that Raoul is boring. If he is the rescuing knight, then his armor is rather dull. Although he is probably an equal match for Christine who has little personality of her own, he is no match for the charismatic Phantom. The battle between the Phantom and Raoul is for Christine’s soul. Yet Raoul himself feels soul-less. It’s not the fault of the actor, rather the bland way his character is written.