Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic Phantom of the Opera is now in its 33rd year at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. The show has been seen by over 140 million people worldwide and has won 70 major theatre awards. A masterpiece of fantasy and illusion, The Phantom of the Opera continues to enthral audiences.
French author Gaston Leroux wrote The Phantom of the Opera (Le Fantome de l’Opera) and it was first published in 1909 and 1910. Partly based on historic events at the Paris Opera in the nineteenth century, Leroux was inspired by the legend of a ballet dancer’s skeleton being used in a play in 1842. Interested in the mysteries surrounding French theatres at the turn of the century, Leroux was fascinated by the idea of the Phantom being real. He wrote in some detail about this in the novel’s prologue and maintained these beliefs until his death in 1927.
The plot of the Phantom of the Opera centres on a young, Swedish soprano, Christine Daae, who is called to sing as cover for the lead role in a performance at the Palais Garnier opera house. A resounding success in the role, Christine is also recognised by childhood friend the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny and his love for her is reignited. On visiting her dressing room, Raoul hears a man’s voice complimenting Christine but on investigating the room, can find nobody else there. Christine later confides that she is being tutored by the Angel of Music.
The Angel of Music is, of course, the Phantom himself and his jealousy of Raoul builds until he attacks his rival and imprisons Christine in his opera house lair. Christine unmasks him to reveal a deformed man; noseless, lipless and with a shrunken, skull-like face. She is conflicted by feelings of horror and sympathy, agreeing to wear his ring and sing for him. Christine begs Raoul to help her escape the Phantom but he overhears their conversation which escalates his jealousy.
After enduring another abduction at the hands of the Phantom, Christine and Raoul are trapped in the Phantom’s mirrored lair. Christine is forced to agree to become his bride and they share a tender kiss. The Phantom is moved to reveal his troubled past and agrees to release Christine if she will conceal his body upon his death. Christine elopes with Raoul and The Phantom’s life is pieced together.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation of the Phantom of the Opera is perhaps its most well-known version. Premiering in London’s West End in 1986, the show was an instant success and went to Broadway just two years later. It is the longest running show in Broadway history and the second longest running musical in the West End, beaten only by Les Miserables. It is a favourite of classical music and opera enthusiasts such as regular concert-goer Ali Seytanpir.
Webber’s adaptation views the Phantom of the Opera as a dramatic love-story and fulfilled his ambition to write a major romantic piece. Webber achieves a bold, darkly brooding take on the Leroux novel by using award winning design, direction and choreography. It is rightly hailed as one of the most spectacular examples of British theatre.