The Phantom of the Opera - Gaston Leroux

OK, this isn't really about the book.
It's not even really about the musical.

It's basically about Ramin Karimloo and the 25th Anniversary performance.

Well, and a comparison of The Phantom between book and musical.

Just in case the titles of my reviews haven't made it clear, I tend to connect books very strongly with music.  I actually don't read without listening to music and create soundtracks for all the books I read. Usually they're lyric-less, unless I'm so familiar with the lyrics that they simply reinforce the themes and tones.  (One example that springs to mind is Pratchett's Night Watch, which contains a strong component of Les Miserables, so I tend to mix in Les Mis songs to its soundtrack.)


I was recently thinking about rereading Pratchett's Maskerade, which is a loose spoof of Phantom of the Opera. However, one thing gave me pause.  You see, I hate-hate-hate basically everything about the musical version of The Phantom of the Opera. Starting with the music. It's just so brash and unsubtle that I actually find it difficult to listen to, and the lyrics are just... well, take "Music of the Night: "Let the dream begin, let your darker side give in/ to the power of the music that I write/the power of the music of the night"--seriously? "The power of the music that I write?" Running out of rhymes, were we? Or "I'm here, nothing can harm you/ My words will warm and calm you"? I simply cannot be the only person that hears "carm you" and has to do a double-take.


And then there's the plot.  Ye gods.  In book or in musical, Christine must be one of the ditsiest protags ever to wander onstage, with the dual unpleasant characteristics of impressive ambition and incredible idiocy.  (Pratchett plays with this characterization of Christine in Maskerade by adding in the Singing-in-the-Rain-like Agnes Nitt, whose incredible voice but less desirable body makes Christine an empty shell in music as well as in personality.) Throughout, she seeks the protection and control of a man; her concept of freedom, as she explicitly states, is to be protected and directed by a man. And then there's her weird relationship with Erik.  The musical, especially, creates a bizarre duality in which his every move tends to be tinged with sexuality and she still apparently thinks he is the Angel of Music sent by her father.  Ugh.  At least in the book, it's a more straightforward abduction/imprisonment in the fine old gothic tradition.  In either case, in both book and musical, Christine's ultimate action is always to bend to the strongest will that pushes her.


However, I went ahead and looked it up on YouTube, and promptly ran into the  25th Anniversary Performance, with Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom and Sierra Boggess as Christine. I was simply blown away by Karimloo's performance.  I've never been fond of the Phantom's songs, and never understood the power of a skeevy dude in a mask singing these blaring, unsubtle, disastrous combination of rock and opera.  Karimloo gave me a whole new perspective on the role.  It is always a triumph to bring a role to life, but the ability to transform a role so thoroughly that a tedious, obnoxious musical becomes something greater... that is something altogether more impressive.  The entire cast is impressively strong; Sierra Boggess actually manages to carry off those horrific high notes in "Angel of Music." For the first time, I got what the musical was trying to achieve. With that singing voice, I even could understand, at least a little, Christine's temptation to follow the edicts of her Angel of Music. And honestly, if I had to choose between the effeminate rich dude with too much eyeliner and the deformed megalomaniacal sociopathic psychokiller with That Voice? I'd totally go with That Voice. 

Yep. Even if he sneaked up creepily behind me, leaned in way too close, put his hand somewhere between my throat and my cleavage, and started breathing into my ear.

(I can understand her expression, though. Awwkward.)


In the book, I think Erik is intended to come off as more flawed, yet more threatening and disturbing than his incarnation in the musical. Despite his various superhero skills and skewed values, Erik is unabashedly human, yet not quite sympathetic. The weirdness with the Persian, while highlighting Erik's comparative humanity, only decreased my ability to empathise with his lonely and disturbed state. I believe strongly in the power of names, and I think the book's tendency to refer to Erik by name humanises him, and thus destroys his mystery. In the musical, despite his rather careless habit of murdering people at random, the Phantom is undoubtedly intended to be the sympathetic antihero, the key role of the piece.  Rather than the misguided dreamer of the book, the Phantom of the musical becomes more than human; the alteration of the ending only enforces the way that The Phantom has become the mysterious avatar of the opera--the angel of music.


In the book, Erik is a man transformed and destroyed by love; in Karimloo's portrayal, the Phantom remains an enigmatic figure; a broken god, a haunting voice.

So, in conclusion: Go ahead. Listen to the music of the night.