Saturday, November 26, 2016

25th Anniversary Phantom of the Opera

For the purposes of this article, I'm going to use the 25th anniversary Phantom recording with Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo, my favorite of all the recordings.

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When I first listened to the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, I must admit that I was really disappointed.  I felt that it was using the same themes over and over again.  Most musicals do repeat themes of course, for example, the following are repeated in Les Miserables:

  • Look Down* (used in the beginning, later in Paris, and finally in the sewers)
  • Empty Chairs (used by the bishop, in the convent, and by Marius)
  • Valjean's Soliliquy (Valjean tears up his ticket of leave)
  • At the End of the Day (the workers at the garment factory)
  • Lovely Ladies (Fantine at the docks, after the barricades)
  • I Dreamed a Dream (Fantine, and later in One Day More)
  • Fantine gets arrested (Valjean rescues Fantine)
  • Who am I (Who am I, One Day More, story of Jean-Valjean to Marius)
  • Confrontation (Valjean and Javert fight)
  • Castle on a Cloud (when Cosette is singing)
  • Master of the House (in the Thenardier's inn, at the end when the leave)
  • Bargaining for Cosette (when Valjean rescues Cosette, when the Thenardiers are back in town)
  • Stars (Javert sings to himself)
  • Red and Black (in the cafe, in One Day More, at the barricade)
  • In My Life (Marius, Cosette, Eponine)
  • A Heart Full of Love (Marius and Cosette, and One Day More, and when Marius is healing)
  • On My Own (Eponine)
  • Do You Heart the People Sing (building the barricade, finale)
  • Javert visits barricade (offering to help barriaders, Javert's suicide)
  • First Attack (um, the first attack obviously)
  • A Little Fall of Rain (Eponine and Marius)
  • Drink With Me (Grantaire and company)
  • Bring Him Home (Valjean at barricade)
  • Little People Know...(Gavroche's death)
*Some of these are shortened titles

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But in Phantom, I only found a few themes that were repeated over and over again:

  • Phantom of the Opera (overture, in the Phantom's sewer, Raoul I've been there, Twisted Every Way)
  • Think of Me (Christine's audition, Masquerade)
  • Angel of Music (Christine and Meg, wandering child, track this murderer, the mirror)
  • Little Lotte/The Mirror 
  • Music of the Night (Down Once More, It's Over Now..., Raoul I've been there, 
  • I Remember
  • Stranger than you Dreamt it (Christine takes the phantom's mask off, "did you think that I would harm her...")
  • Masquerade (choral version, at the end with the phantom)
  • Wishing you were Somehow Here again (graveyard, ending)
  • Magical Lasso (sung with the ballerinas)
  • All I Ask of You (Raoul and Christine, reprise by the phantom, ending)
  • Notes (twice repeated in the same situation)
  • Point of No Return (duet with phantom and Christine, track down this murderer)
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Theatrehotspot -

And that's it.  Allowing for even the smallest differences in theme, there are only fourteen different melodies in Phantom, compared to the twenty-four unique melodies in Les Miserables.

At first, I rolled my eyes, assuming that this was all due to lazy composing, but as I listened more and more, I realized that there was a reason that these songs were repeated.  First of all, it gave the whole show a more operatic feel, even though it is certainly not an opera.  The repetition however, and the combination of challenging singing parts make it seem like one.

These songs were not arbitrarily thrown into the story, either.  

Whenever you hear the chromatic-six note deceleration (duhhhh, duh, duh, duh, duh, DUUUUUH), you know the phantom is near.  

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The most heartbreaking example of the effective repetition of themes is with Masquerade, when everyone sings it as a choir happily, almost mocking the phantom, and later when the phantom sings it to himself sadly. 

Another example is the "Christine I love you" first sung by Raoul on the rooftop, and then *wipes away tear* by the phantom in the end as Christine returns his ring.

Oh and how can I forget "give me the courage to show you you are not alone!" sung to the tune of Angel of Music when Christine is about to kiss the phantom?  This one line recalls all of the admiration and respect Christine once had for the phantom when he was her "angel of music" and in this instance is used to summon that respect and admiration in order to save him, Raoul, and herself.

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I've come to really appreciate the music, and I've practically permanently ruined my vocal chords trying to hit those high soprano notes (I guess you're supposed to warm up...).  Apparently my actual vocal range is between a tenor and an alto???  What?

And now, a just a few of my favorite Phantom musical moments:

Starting at 0:45

Starting at 1:12

The performances in the 25th anniversary show are incredible.  People claim Michael Crawford is the only phantom, but truly I believe Ramin Karimloo redefined the character and took him to emotional depths not tread before.  To me, the 25th anniversary recording is the only one worth listening to.

This is a strange sentiment for me because with Les Mis, I find value in both the movie recording (better orchestration) and the 10th anniversary recording (better singing).  But for Phantom, the 25th is the best all the way through, IMO.

Sierra Boggess is infinitely better than the actress who played Christine in the film, but she does have one moment when I cringe.  I really dislike the moment of "order your fine horses, be with them at the door!" because it sounds like "owdow yo fine howses" with some strange accent.

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I did read, however, that she was ill during the performance, plus she had to wear a tight corset all the way through which, considering the notes she was hitting, is incredible.

So I give the music of Phantom of the Opera a good grade.

But what about the story???

I found the story really heartbreaking and a source of conflict in myself.  I went through the same phase of emotions as Christine through the show.  First, I was intrigued by the mysterious "angel of music" and was delighted to get to visit his lair.  As the show progressed, I steadily came to dread the phantom and his strange ways.

Raoul as a character was kind of "meh" for me.  He seemed rushed in, and while I get that they knew each other as children, people change.  As Christine yells in a different context, "things have changed, Raoul!"

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In the book, I feel that Raoul was much more relatable and it was easier to root for him there.  I'll review the book at a different time, though.

Anyway, the story basically goes that Christine fills in for a long-time soprano, Carlotta.  There is a deformed man who lives beneath the opera house who overhears her and instantly falls in love with her voice.  He lures her to his lair beneath the opera house, promising her that he is the "angel of music" her father had promised to send her when he died.

Christine is very intrigued by the phantom, and the phantom hopes that Christine will come to love him.  Christine pulls off the phantom's mask, overcome with interest, revealing the phantom's disfigurement.  The phantom flies into a rage, believing that Christine will never love him now she knows how ugly he is.

Meanwhile, rumors have circulated that there is an "opera ghost" and notes have been sent to the managers ordering them on how to run the opera house and instructing them to put Christine in the lead role of the soprano.

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This causes a major upset because Carlotta has always been the soprano.  Despite the phantom's orders, the managers put Carlotta in the lead and the phantom sabotages the performance.  

After this, Christine begins to fall in love with her childhood friend, Raoul.  The phantom becomes jealous and vows to wreak havoc on the opera house.

More notes are sent, ordering that Christine become the star of the opera the phantom is forcing the managers to present.  The managers agree, thinking that they will be able to capture the phantom when he goes to watch Christine sing.

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Christine, however, has become increasingly frightened of the phantom and refuses to sing, flying to her father's grave for counsel.  The phantom finds her there and begins to earn her trust again.  He brings her back to his lair.

Raoul finds Christine and the phantom, determined to rescue Christine.  The phantom tells Christine that she must agree to marry him or else Raoul will die.

Instead, Christine gives the phantom a kiss, the first kiss that the phantom ever had (it is revealed that not even his mother would kiss him), and he realizes that he really does love Christine and doesn't want to force her to do anything.  He frees Raoul and the two escape.

The phantom laments the fact that he is "unlovable" because of his face, and Christine returns to give him a ring that the phantom had used to engage her.  The phantom reveals his love for Christine, and after Christine leaves him, he dies of love (off-stage, but is meant to be inferred).  Christine and Raoul get married.

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This story has some powerful themes surrounding true beauty and love.  The phantom is convinced that his deformity is the reason no one can love him.  But as Christine tells him, 

This haunted face
Holds no horror for me now.
It's in your soul
That the true distortion lies..."

It's not the phantom's hideous face that is the problem, it's his willingness to kill and kidnap to get what he wants:

"If he has to kill one thousand men
The phantom of the opera will kill and kill again."

The theme of true beauty is found in many other French works like Beauty and the Beast, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

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Compassion is another theme in the story.  No one cared for the phantom.  Even his own mother would recoil when he tried to give her a kiss.  The phantom longs for love and compassion but has been consistently denied this. 

Yet in his eyes, all the sadness in the world
Those pleading eyes that both threaten and adore."

His pain turns to anger and dark desire and lack of compassion on his part as past pains so often do in the best characters:

I love her!
Does that mean nothing?
I love her!
Show some compassion!

The world showed no compassion to me!"

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Hounded out by everyone,
Met with hatred everywhere,
No kind words from anyone,
No compassion anywhere...
Why, why...?"

Pity comes to late,
Turn around and face your fate,
An eternity of this before your eyes!"

I love the phantom as a character.  His tortured past and unfortunate circumstances make him a truly pitiable character, but that is balanced by his abominable behavior.  On the one hand, I just want Christine to love him, but on the other hand, his actions are inexcusable.  

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Even though it broke my heart to watch, I agree with Christine's decision to kiss the phantom and show him he is not unlovable, but to ultimately go with Raoul.  

What do you think?  Did you agree with Christine's decision??

I really love this musical.  I think it's second to Les Mis for favorite musical, though right now I am kind of in a phantom phase, where I listen to the soundtrack pretty much incessantly while I'm doing anything.  I would rather listen to Phantom right now, but I think once the novelty wears off I will round back to Les Mis as my favorite.  Only time will tell though, I suppose.

My point is that I love Phantom's music and it's characters.  

"It's over now, the music of the night!"

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  1. *has sudden urge to listen to all the recordings of Phantom in existence*

  2. I LOVE the Phantom of the Opera! :D

    I'm glad you were able to understand the point of the repetition of the themes. I've always felt that though there are few melodies in this musical, their use is tactical and appropriate.
    I felt that Raol was a much more enjoyable character in the Joel Schumacher version, and I liked his voice better there too. But the Royal Albert Hall version is also fantastic, and though I like the Raol less, I like the Phantom more. Ramin Karimloo has one of the most beautiful voices I've heard, and I definitely like what he does with the Phantom's songs.
    The Christine in this version is also very good, though like you I've had some issues with her pronunciation of certain words, particularly the 'L' sound in the middle of any given word. It's a style, I understand, so I forgive her. :)

    I'm curious, are you a Phantom/Christine shipper, or a Raol/Christine shipper? I persnally am all for Raol. Though I love the Phantom and have a great deal of pity for him, I am more drawn to the gentle, heroic figure of Raol, the childhood friend. Which is why I was so completely disappointed with the sequel, "Love Never Dies". The music for that show was beautiful, but the story defied everything I loved about "Phantom of the Opera".

    Also, I thought it interesting that in musicals and operas alike, heroes are traditionally cast as tenors, while villains and antagonists are usually basses or baritones. But the Phantom has always been cast as a tenor, signifying that though he has become a menacing figure, he could have been so much more, had life and his own bitterness not consumed him.

    One thing about the Royal Albert Hall version I wish they had done differently was the graveyard scene. Maybe its my love of the swashbuckling genre, but I really would have liked to see Raol and the Phantom duel as they did in the movie. But the way they did it with pyrotechnics was cool too, so that's alright anyway. :)

    1. Oh yes, Ramin Karimloo sings like an angel (...of music...)!

      Hmm, it depends. I think ultimately I am happy Christine is with Raoul, but I don't necessarily ship it. I would feel the same if Raoul had not existed and Christine was just alone. I dunno, particularly in the musical Raoul is just really bland IMO. In the novel I totally ship Raoul and Christine though. As for shipping with the phantom, of course I really want Erik to be happy and everything, I just don't think that it would be a smart relationship considering the phantom's mental state. I think Christine does love him in her way, but not romantically. I am happy with the way the musical ended.

      Oh my don't get me started on LND please...I already wrote one incoherent jumble of words and sounds today about it, and I don't want to begin ranting again...*phyiscally restrains hands for a moment*

      Hmm, that's an interesting point. I never noticed that, but you're right!!

    2. UGH, Love Never Dies. *facepalm* >.< I just don't understand, why????