Gérard Carrière – Burt Lancaster
Count Philippe de Chagnie – Adam Storke
Christine Daeë – Terri Polo (singing voice: Michèle Lagrange)
Erik, the Phantom of the Opera – Charles Dance (singing voice: Gérard Garino)
Cholet – Ian Richardson
Carlotta – Andréa Ferréol (singing voice: Hélia T’Hézan)
Madame Giry – Marie-Thérèse Orain
Writer – Arthur Kopit after Arthur Kopit (play) from Gaston Leroux (novel)
Director – Tony Richardson
Production companies – Hexatel and Saban/Scherick Productions in association with StarCom, TF1, Reteitalia and Beta Film
Producer – Ross Milloy
Place of production – Palais Garnier, Paris
Composer – John Addison
Pre-existing music – Gounod (Faust); Bellini (Norma); Verdi (La traviata); Xanrof (Le Fiacre)
Director of Photography – Steve Yaconelli
Editor – Robert K. Lambert
Designer/sets – Timian Alsaker, Jacques Buenoir
Costumes – Jacqueline Moreau
Makeup – Sophie Landry
Mask Designer – Timian Alsaker
The origins of this made-for-television two-part film come from the stage. Arthur Kopit worked with composer Maury Yeston on a stage musical Phantom (they had previously worked together on the successful Broadway musical Nine, adapted from Fellini’s film 8½). In the 1980s both this musicalization of Leroux’s novel and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s were being developed at the same time. But Lloyd Webber’s was staged in London first, and its successful swift transfer to Broadway made the Yeston/Koppit adaptation an insufficiently commercial proposition for its intended Broadway production, so plans for such a production were halted. Under the title Phantom, it was eventually given its first performance in 1991 in Houston, Texas, after the TV film had been broadcast.
The film adaptation was written as a reworking of the musical’s script when it looked as though the musical might not be staged at all. Thus, its story has elements in common with the stage show (such as the significance of who the Phantom’s father is and the manner of the Phantom’s death), but also draws strongly on detail and atmosphere from Leroux’s novel absent in the stage adaptation. Christine Daaë arrives at the Paris Opera, having walked from the country on the word of Counte Philippe de Chagnie: he heard her singing at a country fair and directed her to the opera director Gérard Carrière for singing lessons. He has directed many such pretty girls in the same direction, but this time his attraction proves serious.
Christine arrives at exactly the wrong time: Carrière has just been sacked as General Manager upon the takeover of the company by Monsieur Cholet, whose wife Carlotta will become the company diva. Christine is given a role in the laundry, and a blind eye is turned to her sleeping in part of the under-stage area until she can make other arrangements.
During her wanderings around the theatre at night she reaches the stage and sings. The Phantom of the Opera, who lives in caverns under the building, has heard her. He appears, masked, in the orchestra pit proposing himself as her singing teacher. He tells her there is mask is so that she can’t tell anyone who he is – he claims to be well known and does not want others demanding similar, free tuition.
The plot follows the familiar adaptational line of an opera diva challenged by the young superior talent. The Phantom manipulates the situation to the advantage of his pupil. However, a significant alteration to Leroux’s plot is made with the addition of a friendly ‘sing off’ at a local café (also in the stage musical), in which Christine – unknown, and making her first singing appearance in front of the company – upstages Carlotta with a purer sound and superior, technical skill. This provokes the jealousy of Carlotta, but also the secret plan of her commercially minded husband to have Christine sing Marguerite in Faust. Carlotta sabotages Christine’s debut, and the fiasco drives the Phantom to crash the auditorium chandelier on the jeering audience.
The film is notable for being filmed on location at the Palais Garnier in Paris, which lends an authenticity of visual period and style. In fact, the production is marked throughout by a strong – and often oppressive – sense of naturalism in approach to design. The narrative also eschews almost anything supernatural or mysterious, going for rational explanation at every turn. Consequently, at no point is the Phantom, Erik, presented as anything other than a real man – a suave and sophisticated one, too.
Historically informed operatic performance features significantly, and the singing voices are provided by established opera singers. In particular, Jacques Mars both sings and acts the part of company performer Oreyeso/Méphisto [Méphistophélès] in Faust. Mars was an internationally acclaimed opera singer who was especially associated with this role in Gounod’s opera, having played it some 300 times on stage. Carlotta makes her Paris debut in the title role of Bellini’s Norma and her second appearance in Verdi’s La traviata: both performances go awry and the Act I Brindisi provides an instantly recognizable, recurring musical motif for Carlotta’s eventual Phantom-induced insanity. Faust (shown with historically informed costumes and scenery) and the role of Marguerite are identified with Christine. After her debut has been cut short in Act I by Carlotta’s sabotage, she subsequently triumphs in a second performance during which the Phantom usurps Faust’s tenor vocal line in Act V, singing from Box 5 in ecstatic duet with Christine ‘Oui, c’est toi/moi, je t’aime!’.