Phangasm – Phantom of the Opera

Normally this goes around as a 30 day challenge, but I figured I might test the patience of everyone reading this blog by only answering one question a day for 30 days, so you get all the answers in one shot!

How you first learned about Phantom.

My aunt first told me about it, and how much she loved it, so I got the CD from the library and could not stop listening to it. Once my hold time was up, I ran out and bought it, which was quite an accomplishment for a 13 year old! Next, I read the Susan Kay novel and fell so in love with it that it has become canon in my mind.

Your first ALW show and/or your first Phantom; when and where.

I saw bits and pieces of Cats on television when I was about eleven or so, but Phantom was my first legitimate introduction to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work. My first viewing of the live show was in NYC when I was twenty years old, and my first Erik was Hugh Panaro. He was a great Phantom to start with, because he sounds so much like Michael Crawford. (Don’t believe me? Click here!) Plus, he was really sweet and posed for photos with us fan girls afterward.

Your favorite minor character.

A toss-up between Meg and Madame Giry. I love Meg in both the stage and movie versions, but I really love what they did with the character of Madame Giry in the film: they made her much more loving toward her daughter, more protective of Christine, more empathetic toward Erik, and there are so many small moments with her that I just adore, such as fixing her daughter’s hair when Christine is singing (in a way, being proud of Meg in a moment when it is all about Christine), or looking torn up inside when she realizes that the Phantom has taken Piangi’s place in Past the Point of No Return.

Your least favorite character overall.

Joseph Buquet I suppose, the behind-the-scenes stage assistant who was always leering at the ballet girls and spreading nasty rumors about Erik. I still wonder what got him killed… ogling Christine or scaring the ballet dancers with stories about the ghastly, deformed opera ghost?

Favorite part of the stage version.

The entire sequence revolving around the title song, from the moment Christine steps through the mirror to the conclusion of her last, final, powerful note. I love him leading her down the stairs while the music swells around them, overpowering and sensual at the same time giving us the promise of danger. I also love the scene in the cemetery when the Phantom nearly incinerates Raoul. (What? Stop looking at me like that.)

Favorite Phantom costume (any version).

Everyone, I am sure, answers Red Death to this question, because it’s such an iconic and powerful image, almost better known than the half mask. I do like the live performance version of this costume, but I’m going to commit a travesty here and admit that I prefer the movie costume better. It is less opulent and overdone, but just as powerful, since he is the only one in the room in red. I also love the mask and how jagged it is. But you just cannot get any better than the stage version’s introductory Phantom costume – the long cape, the immaculate suit, and the fedora. Swoon.

Favorite Christine costume (any version).

The gown Christine wears in the second half of the stage version; it is an amazing Victorian bustle dress in gorgeous blue fabric. I remember being slightly disappointed that it was not recreated for the film, because the first time I saw it on stage I was in love. For the movie, I think I love the Point of No Return corset gown the most. It’s so light and filmy and sexy without being too smutty.

Your favorite song from the ALW production.

The title track; it’s what made me first fall in love with the musical. It is… I don’t know how anyone can sit through it without shivering with happiness, from the dramatic organ opening notes to the final powerful burst of aria. But over the years, I have also grown to love Masquerade and All I Ask of You.

Your least favorite song.

Poor Fool, He Makes Me Laugh. I enjoy it, because it is witty and saucy and humorous, but it’s not my favorite.

Favorite sung line (Act 1).

Damn you! You little prying Pandora! You little demon! Is this what you wanted to see? Curse you, you lying Delilah! Now you cannot ever be free!” I love the raw emotion of it.

Favorite sung line (Act 2).

God give me courage to show you, you are not alone.” It’s the most powerful line in the entire musical, in my opinion.

Favorite instrumental portion of the score.

The overture, which is, as one critic put it, “a rock concert masquerading as an opera.”

Your favorite Phantom.

That is a mean question. I think my favorite voice for the Phantom is Michael Crawford, simply because he defined him for me for so many years. I love all the fun he is having with the character, and the way he enunciates his laughter in such a brilliant manner. But for the stage, it would have to be John Cudia. He has such an incredible stage presence and passion that really defines the role as his own – plus, he’s the only Phantom ever to make me cry at the end.

Your favorite Christine.

Sierra Boggess, from the 25th Anniversary Concert. She has such a powerful voice but also such a beautiful sense of mischief and youth to her expressions; I particularly love the moment she is sneaking up to rip the Phantom’s mask off. You cannot help adoring the look on her face, like an excited child.

Your favorite Raoul.

John Cudia. He toured as Raoul before earning the lead, and I remember the impression he left on me, because it was the only time I felt myself rooting for Raoul! He brought the same passion and enthusiasm and incredible voice to Raoul as he would later do for Phantom, and I’m sorry to say that he pretty much stole the entire show out from under the lead actor. Oops.

Line you always mess up when singing.

Angel of Music, hide no longer! Secret and strange angel…” from Angel of Music. I always remember every line around it, but never that one! (Meg and Christine sing it together, and I always forget what is next after “Angel of Music, guide and guardian, grant to me your glory…”)

Whose part do you follow/sing when multiple people are singing?

Usually Phantom whenever he is singing with Christine; although when everyone is singing in Prima Donna, for some reason I follow the managers’ part (“… lunatic demands are regular occurrences!”).

The song you hit repeat on the most.

The title track – although I also really love Past the Point of No Return, so sometimes I listen to that more than once. If the final act was broken up into shorter segments, I would also listen to portions of Down Once More multiple times. (I love that line, “Down once more to the dungeon of my black despair, down we plunge to the prison of my mind! Down that path into darkness deep as hell!”)

Have you seen the 25th Anniversary Concert? If so, what was your opinion?

It was so brilliant I didn’t even mind the minor changes. I love that we get to experience the expressions and subtler things close-up, because it gives real insight into all the characters. The music is powerful and the singing is glorious, but mostly I love the breathy exchange between the leads. One of my favorite moments is when Erik is singing The Music of the Night, but when she turns to look at him, he avoids eye contact and darts away, shyly. But what most stands out to me is how raw and true the emotions are; it causes voices to waver, hearts to sink, and tears to come to our eyes.

Opinion of the 2oo4 movie.

Even though it was at first a bit of a disappointment, in the end I love it. Once I overcame my frustration that some of the voices were not strong enough for their roles, I came to see it as a gorgeous piece of film-making and a fairly honest representation of the original. I like the fact that Gerard brings even more sensuality to Erik (although personally, I don’t find him sexy in other roles, so I think it is playing Erik that does it for me). I like it that Emmy is so young and so innocent as Christine, and that Raoul has a really lovely voice. What I do not like is that the “magic” of the Phantom has been removed, and that he was bested in the sword fight, which really undermines the entire subtext of the musical – that only Christine can save Raoul. He cannot save himself, because he is not Erik’s equal in intelligence or talent.

Favorite part of the 2004 movie.

I think Past the Point of No Return is absolutely exquisite in the film; it really is where the movie outshines the stage production in my opinion, because it is so undeniably passionate. There is so much desire and emotion and even grief in it, with a certain amount of tenderness; in a way, it really is the emotional climax of the film, much more than what follows after. But I also think that the scene with Christine singing about her father in the cemetery was beautifully done; it put a lump in my throat and was visually striking.

Your opinion on Love Never Dies.

The first time I heard it, I was ticked off. I’m still a tiny bit ticked off, because of the brutal character assassination that goes on in that version of the story: sweet Meg becomes obsessed with the Phantom, Madame Giry has a dark side, and Raoul turns into a drunken lout living off his wife’s former success. But after listening to it about ten thousand times, I’ve come to the realization that the music is beautiful even in its rougher patches, and I must admit that the tragic outcome appeals to me. Much as I disapprove of the conclusions it draws, where Beneath the Moonless Sky leads the audience makes the romantic in me happy. (But I also think that plot twist was stolen from Phantom, by Susan Kay…)

Favorite Phantom item you own.

It would either have to be my Music of the Night figurine music box from the San Francisco Music Box Company, or the Phantom charm bracelet I bought at a live performance.

Your favorite phanart.

Your favorite head canon.

Susan Kay’s novel, Phantom. I realize not everyone can appreciate it or even approve of it, because admittedly it can be rough in patches, but it made such an enormous impact on me both as a writer and as an individual. It gave me such insight into and compassion for Erik that it literally changed my perception of the stage musical forever. There are so many images from it cemented in my mind; I was struck by the immaculate beauty of her writing, the simplicity and profoundness of it, the fact that she could express so much with so few words in some instances, and build an entire world that lived and breathed and I wanted to escape into at times. In my humble opinion, it’s just a darn good book.

Your favorite thing about the Phantom story.

I think what most draws me to it is the contrasts rampant throughout; between love and lust, control and surrender, power and vulnerability, beauty and hideousness. But I love the fact that the Phantom is not the romantic hero nor the villain, but an anti-hero that the audience understands and feels empathy for, in spite of his darker inclinations. His redemption comes through love, when at last he sees that his obsessive need to control Christine is pale in comparison to her pure, selfless love for Raoul. She changes him forever, and he is redeemed through a kiss.

6 Replies to “Phangasm – Phantom of the Opera”

  1. I agree that the book has multiple personalities. 🙂 I see it mainly as a mystery. I love the character of the Persian. I don’t remember if he’s in Susan Kay’s novel or not; it’s been so long since I read it.

    1. The Persian is great. He IS in Kay’s novel — he takes rather good care of Erik when someone poisons him with shaved glass in his wine, when he is acting as the head magician for the royal household of Persia. =)

    1. I have! It’s sitting on the shelf next to me, in fact. It’s been awhile, but I do remember finding it interesting that the book cannot figure out what it wants to be — a horror story? a romance? a mystery? The one thing I do love about the book is the chapter that takes place in the churchyard. It’s incredibly gothic and haunting. On a minor note, the one fault I find with Susan Kay’s book is that when she tries to recreate the original novel, it goes south very quickly. She should have just led up to the moment that book begins and quit. Gaston does it better.

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