It has been a long six months since the official release of The Phantom of the Opera live performance at the Royal Albert Hall was announced for 2012. It finally hits American distributors on Tuesday and all I can say is, it’s about time!
Many of my obsessions have come and go, but my love for Phantom of the Opera remains unchanged. I love it for many reasons, but foremost because it is powerful on stage or off. It is more than a love story; it is a tragedy, a tale of obsession and devotion and loss, redemption and innocence and sensuality. It is about Christine’s innocent love for Raoul and her deep physical attraction to Erik. Christine has a choice between light and darkness, between a young man who is foolish but courageous and faithful in his attempts to save her, and a man innocent in physical pleasures but mature in the art of seduction and manipulation. Raoul represents her childhood and in many ways, her love for him is young and inexperienced. Does she truly love him, or does he offer her a reminder of a happier time when her father was still alive?
Erik (for that is the Phantom’s name), she admires for his talent and musical abilities, a man she owes the gloriousness of her voice and the power of her success, a man she is deeply attracted to, so much so that even though she knows she must unmask him in order to reveal his presence to the audience, and the police waiting to arrest him in the Opera House, she hates doing it, and very nearly is lost to the power of his voice once again.
Lust is not something that is easily dealt with in stories; many modern movies use lust in place of love, but in Phantom the distinction is obvious. Erik is the embodiment of lust in every way, in his desire to control and isolate Christine from others, in his attempts to dominate her mind and heart and body, in his quest to own her body and soul. In him, we find temptation and darkness, and in Raoul we find innocence and devotion. But for most audiences, me included, it is not Raoul that we find ourselves rooting for, but Erik.
What does that say about us, about our natural inclinations toward sin, about our need for redemption, and our hope that no soul is too far gone to find salvation? We are drawn to what is forbidden, to what is dangerous, to what is desirable in ways that excite and terrify us, and Erik embodies all of that for us, along with our empathy for his plight and our desire to save him. And that is in part what makes the musical so profound, because in the end, Erik discerns the difference between control and love. He is offered love in spite of his cruelty, as Christine prays that God will, “give me the strength to show you, you are not alone.” Her offer to stay with him, to sacrifice her love for Raoul to save Raoul, shows him the error of his ways and changes his heart. In that moment, in that act of selfless love, he finds redemption and releases them both from his control. Christine is a Christ figure to the Phantom, and an individual that changes him forever.
Phantom is powerful in ways that we do not understand, even as it speaks to our innermost soul. It is not just the music, or the temptation, or the love that draws us, but the inner revelations it offers us about ourselves. It is about love and lust, innocence and manipulation, and most of all, about an emotion that matures from lust into true love.