The Phantom of the Opera - Lloyd Webber or Leroux? - A look into the characters Christine Daae and The Phantom.
'Phantom of the Opera', written by Gaston Leroux, is a peculiar literary classic. It was serialised in 1910 and then published in volume form in April 1910 (in English in 1911), and is partly inspired by historical events at the Paris Opera during the nineteenth century. To say that it is a confusing read at times is kind and it is perhaps this reason that most people today are referring to the Lloyd Webber stage show when they discuss the phantom tale, rather than the gothic mystery set down by Leroux.
Leroux was known predominantly at the time Phantom was published, for his 1907 detective story 'The Mystery of the Yellow Ribbon', starring the fictional character Joseph Rouletabille. It is his great vision for early 20th Century mystery that gives Phantom its wonderful veil of intrigue, hidden unfortunately behind a tale that never quite manages to find its true genre. For the purposes of this discussion, we will assume that 'The Phantom of Manhattan' and 'Love Never Dies' do not exist.
The story focuses mainly on the new star of the Paris Opera, Christine Daae. As she triumphs at the gala on the night of the old managers' retirement, her old childhood friend, Raoul, hears her sing and recalls his love. The new managers are concerned with the rumours of a phantom living at the Opera, who proceeds to makes himself known to the managers through letters and malevolent acts. The Phantom also manages to pass on certain information to the mangers through Madame Giry, a member of the concierge in the Leroux tale and the ballet mistress in Lloyd Webber’s.
Certain other points remain the same, including: Christine’s kidnapping, Carlotta’s lost voice and the subsequent falling of the chandelier, the escape to Apollo’s Lyre and the final ultimatum - although this is simplified in the Lloyd Webber version, to a straight forward ‘yes or no’ situation.
Now Leroux makes a bold statement straight away ‘The Opera ghost really existed’, a belief he asks of the reader in the first sentence, while not even able to substantiate such a remark. Is it a statement that Leroux really did believe his own tale? Or is it a very clever fictional proclamation to grasp the reader at the start? I’d like to think the latter is true. Lloyd Webber is not so bold, he gives us an auction at the Opera, with the auctioneer stating ‘the strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera, a mystery never fully explained’, giving us the notion not everyone is convinced in the tale, and that there is too much doubt for it to be truly believed. Believable or not, the tale gives us some unforgettable characters.
What can we say of our heroine, Miss Daae? Both Leroux and Lloyd Webber deliver us with an awkward, shy and very talented young woman, given the fact she is an orphan her life is open to the prospect of being ‘prepared’ by another more intellectual and older body. She becomes entranced in the voice she hears, her Angel, and this entity becomes her mentor and protector. Now we know that this voice is that of the Phantom, a caring, complacent voice that guides her in music and the study of the operatic art.
At first she is confused by this ‘inner voice’ that she hears, is it her Father? Or is it the Angel of Music her Father told her would visit her? To her it is her ‘Guide and Guardian’, and the intense feeling she gets when she is offered the chance to meet the man behind the voice, added to the adrenaline rush of being adored by the public, leaves her mind feeble and easy for manipulation.
This ‘Angel’ then asks that she leave behind the world she knows ‘Turn your face away, from the garish light of day’, he does so offering her a life in darkness, away from the light – Symbolism here of Christian beliefs; God speaking to Jesus (Christine being the female variant of Christ) in a voice in his head, asking him to take up the life he has planned for him, or even the Devil trying to tempt Jesus and make a pact with him. The conflict in Christine, the temptation she feels, could also be a reference to the temptation Eve felt in the Garden of Eden.
Christine states herself that she only ‘sees’ her ‘Angel’ from ‘inside her mind’ the physical form she beholds is that of the Phantom, not her ‘Angel’, but it is the Phantom that offers her not music, although this is his bargaining tool, but sexual feeling. The Phantom uses words such as ‘Seduction’, ‘Desire’, ‘Caress’ and ‘Intoxication’. It is this ‘intoxication’, this music, this promise of another life, which he uses to seduce Christine’s mind, it is a drug to both of them, and the body will follow. Christine allows herself to be intoxicated. She enters a dream world, where the life of the Opera is surreal and her life with the Phantom will become reality, where they can live together ‘body’s entwining’, and creating music together. Through her experiences she will return to the ‘real world’ a woman, full of life, a life with different connotations, but none of this can happen until she agrees, as the Phantom states ‘only then can you belong to me’. This makes the Phantom out to be more devilish then maybe we give credit, maybe more than one reason why Leroux made ‘Faust’ the Opera we hear of in the book, this whole pact between the Phantom and Christine sounds like it came right out of Goethe’s famous tale.
Raoul, the sensible, more practical side to Christine’s personality, is always trying to bring her back to reality, he is almost trying to rehabilitate her of her intoxicated state, and tells her, ‘What you heard was a dream and nothing more,’ ‘a fable,’ ‘a waking nightmare’, he goes on to tell her ‘No more talk of darkness, forget these wide-eyed fears’ and he offers to be her ‘shelter’ and her ‘light’. This comforts her for a short time, but it is all what the Phantom has warned her of, ‘cold, unfeeling light’, and soon she begins to fear even Raoul’s attitude towards her, her half-hearted acceptance of the marriage proposal, is not only her fear of the Phantom finding out, but also to make sure that she has options, that she is not trapped in the light, she can if she so wishes, choose the darkness.
So what can we say of our sociopathic ‘hero’? In the story the phantom is a tormented, half-grotesque figure that no one can bear to look at. The appearance varies from Leroux to Lloyd Webber but the personality and attributes remain the same. He is a murderer who is filled with rage, bitterness and envy. These personality defects are also more prominent when the mask is removed, the mask not only disguising his horrid appearance, but also hiding his inner demon, his hatred and anger. He is alone and preaches to Christine the need to learn to be alone. He is constantly pulling Christine downward into his own world, thinking he is doing the best for her, but all the while destroying her. Once in, it seems, she will never be able to get out. He shows us that he is manipulative and clever and will do whatever it takes to get his way, but at the point Christine shows him that the world does not have to be this way, that he can live a normal life, all the anger ebbs away, not the resentment, although this is aimed more towards his own actions towards the end.
So why is she tempted by his offer of a new life? Because the phantom holds the key to her future, her path to being a star, making her father proud and it is just how to do this that Christine has always wanted to know. He talks about the possibility to "live as you've never lived before," and, as she states to Raoul that his face was ‘distorted’ and ‘deformed’, but ‘his voice filled my spirit with a strange sweet sound, and through music my soul began to soar’.
In our way we can identify with Christine and the Phantom. Christine is the innocent inner child in us all, she wants the same things in life as we do, love and happiness, and the desire to make our friends and family proud. Raoul is her sense of reason and reality, and the Phantom is her darker, more destructive side, the part of our personality we would rather people sometimes did not see, for fear of rejection and revilement, and being ostracised from the human race. The Phantom and Christine are one and the same, just two opposing personalities, two sides of a coin, but who is the tragic figure? The Phantom is alone, disfigured and has never felt the warmth of human kindness. Christine has lost her parents and her soul is on auction to the highest bidder, Raoul or the Phantom, both of whom offer her a life she is unaccustomed to, grooming her in a sense, to what they want her to be. It is hard to distinguish between the two characters to answer this question, for all intense and purpose they are one and the same.
It is easy to see why so many people go to see this show, the characters are brilliantly written and the music is timeless and the show asks us a poignant question, which path in life should we take? This is not for me to answer; it has monetary, personal and political connotations in the real world we all live in. Either we stay the way we are, steadfast to our conventional lives, whatever the negatives, or we give it all up in search of the secret that will give everything significance, and take you ‘where you long to be’.
The various versions of Phantom of The Opera, whether film, TV, stage or the book, all offer different interpretations of the original book. In hindsight, this maybe down to the originals average storytelling, rather than artistic changing from producers and writers. Taking this view point, I think a lot of credit has to be given to Lloyd Webber and team, for making sure this ‘classic’ tale will be remembered forever.
Steven K Beattie's blogs. Ranging from news regarding his latest projects to general topics of discussion.