The Phantom of the Opera – 1st February 2013

This isn’t something I’d normally post on here but I thought I’d break away from tradition and post a little review of the Phantom of the Opera, which I saw on the 1st February at the Mayflower in Southampton. My argument is that because it’s set in the 1800’s, it is technically history. Most of you probably know the story of the Phantom of the Opera, set in the late 1800’s at the Opera Garnier in Paris. The opera is haunted by something known only as The Phantom of the Opera, a man by the name of Erik who wears a mask to cover his deformed face. Not only does he “haunt” the place, but he works on the fear the staff and the management by demanding a salary, and that Box 5 be kept empty for his own private use. As the play opens we are introduced to a number of important characters in the show – Carlotta Guidicelli, Madame Giry, Meg Giry and Christine Daee. It soon becomes apparent that Christine is a star in the making – after Carlotta has a hissy fit and leaves, Christine takes her place in the latest show, all thanks to her strange new singing Tutor known just as the Angel of Music. After the performance, she goes to her dressing room where we are introduced to Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny and Christine’s love interest. But the Angel steps in as Raoul goes to get his hat, and takes her through the mirror to his underground lair beneath the opera house. It soon becomes apparent that he is deeply in love with Christine, and that his love for her borders on obsessed. And that’s when things all start to go terribly wrong. Whilst the Phantom plays with the management to make sure Christine gets all the best parts, he becomes enraged when the staff disobey him, and that Box 5 is in use…and drops a chandelier on the audience and stage during a performance. He also starts killing people (there is a rather brilliant scene in which he hangs Joseph Buquet, completely ruining a performance) using his famous Persian lassoo, forces the opera to perform his own production “Don Juan Triumphant”. Of course, Chagny wants rid of the Phantom and schemes with the police to make sure he’s arrested during a performance of Don Juan…but it all goes wrong, the Phantom shows up as planned and abducts Christine. Again. He takes her back to his lair, and all but forces her to agree to marry him and look upon his deformed face for the rest of her life believing that it disgusts her. But she says his face no longer frightens her but his dark, ugly soul does. When Raoul shows up, the Phantom places a noose around his neck, forcing Christine to make a choice – agree to stay with him, or Raoul dies. She ends up kissing him, proving that she doesn’t fear him – and is she admitting some sort of feelings for her Angel of Music? In any case, he falls to his knees sobbing, allowing the two of them to leave. Having never experienced such compassion before, it knocks the Phantom for six. He never believed that any one would look past his deformities and show him real love. He let’s them go, and as the police make their way to his lair led by Meg Giry, he disappears leaving just his cloak and mask.
In the show we saw, the Phantom was played by Earl Carpenter. And I must say, he was absolutely mind blowing. Before going to see the stage show, I had only seen the move version. Whilst the music in the movie was brilliant, the stage version was a thousand times better. Carpenter’s voice was astounding, and his stage presence just breathtaking. As he and the rest of the cast acted out Andrew Lloyd Webber’s script, I could barely move my eyes from the stage. Carpenter was incredibly dynamic and his relationship with Katie Hall who played Christine was sheer perfection. The two of them worked so well together, their voices mingling in a dynamic musical experience.
The set and costumes were utterly beautiful. I have to say my favourite bit of the whole thing – due quite frankly to the beautiful costumes and set – was “Masquerade”. The use of Venetian masks and a stage full of dancers in beautiful costumes, the set made up entirely of mirrors. I was completely blown away, and I will admit that I had tears in my eyes during this sequence and once they finished the song I clapped so hard my hands hurt. Absolutely stunning, completely blown away. In fact, the whole production was the same. And during the most famous song of the whole production, “The Phantom of the Opera”, I was so impressed with not only the singing but how they made the progression from climbing down the steps to the boat on the lake. As I watched, highly impressed with the singing, I had tears in my eyes yet again. My heart was in my mouth as the set changed from the misty lake to the Phantom’s lair. Absolutely astounding.
The Opera House in which the Phantom is set, is actually a real place – the Palais Garnier in Paris. And there is actually a lake and thousands of metres of tunnels beneath the Opera House. Alas, no one is allowed down to the lake that inspired the original tale. However, access to the lake and tunnels are seriously restricted and after doing some digging online, it seems you can only go down there with a special pass from security. Another interesting historical fact, the Opera was used to house prisoners during the second French Revolution – and in the deep cellars beneath the Opera you can still see rusted manacles on the walls along with graffiti from the prisoners scratched into the walls. I’ve been scouring the Internet for most of the day trying to find more information on these tunnels, searching for information that could point to there being even a grain of truth in the story but alas, I’ve come up with nothing more than a very expensive book…and I’m not going to spend £1000 on a book about the Palais Garnier. Nope. Can’t afford it. However, more digging shall be done into this awesome legend – starting with reading the original story by Leroux. I’ve also been looking into the Palais Garnier itself, an absolutely fascinating building and so beautiful – and a building I would like to do more research on. More on that here on the blog as and when.
All in all, an absolutely brilliant production and one I would recommend to anyone whether they know the story or not. If you can get to see the tour as it heads around the UK then please do. My next stop will be to see a production of it on the West End! And in the meantime I shall be looking into the legend and the history of the Palais Garnier!

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