2004 – The Phantom of the Opera

2004 – The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera - 2004

The Phantom [Erik] – Gerard Butler
Christine Daeë – Emmy Rossum
Raoul [Vicomte de Chagny] – Patrick Wilson
Madame Giry – Miranda Richardson
Carlotta – Minnie Driver
Firmin – Ciaran Hinds
André – Simon Callow
Piangi – Victor McGuire
Meg Giry – Jennifer Ellison
Writers – Andrew Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher after Gaston Leroux (novel) and after musical book (stage) by Richard Stilgoe
Lyrics – Charles Hart
Additional lyrics – Richard Stilgoe
Director – Really Useful Films/Scion Films
Production company – Andrew Lloyd Webber
Place of production – Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, UK
Composer – Andrew Lloyd Webber
Director of Photography – John Mathieson
Editor – Terry Rawlings
Designer/sets – Anthony Pratt
Costumes – Alexandra Byrne
Makeup – Jenny Shircore [designer] Phantom Prosthetic Designer – Matthew Smith

This is a film adaptation of the stage musical The Phantom of the Opera, by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and writers Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe.

The story is in essence that of Leroux’s novel. Through sabotage, Phantom forces out of the Opéra Populaire the reigning prima donna, Carlotta Giudicelli, in order that his pupil Christine Daaë will take her place. Christine naively imagines her unseen teacher to be an ‘Angel of Music’ sent by her dead father from Heaven. Her success at a gala performance reunites her with a childhood friend, Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny. Their blossoming love will incur the wrath of the Phantom who has romantic as well as musical intentions for Christine. When the Phantom tempts Christine after the gala to his underground home, she discovers his real identity and sees his deformity. The opera managers do not follow orders to put Christine in the lead over Carlotta, to which the Phantom responds by sending the chandelier crashing into the auditorium. At a ball, the Phantom appears as the Red Death and orders that his new opera Don Juan Triumphant is performed. The company stages the opera as a means for trapping the Phantom. The plan goes wrong, Christine is abducted by the Phantom, and Raoul follows them underground. In a final confrontation, the Phantom realizes he can never win Christine’s heart, releases Raoul and Christine, and mysteriously disappears.

The stage musical opened in London at her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket, on 9 October 1986, and has run there continually since. It opened on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre on 26 January 1988, and has played there continually since too. The stage production, with its design by Maria Björnson, has been reproduced worldwide such that it is has been experienced in the theatre by more people than any other work in the musical theatre canon and is the most commercially successful musical written.

Unsurprisingly, this theatre staging has become highly influential on many later film adaptations round the world – especially through its rose-and-mask publicity imagery. This effect can be seen in copycat packaging for some releases of the 1943 Lubin version and for the South Korean release of the 1990 Richardson TV film (itself a reworking of the Yeston-Kopit stage musical swamped in the musical theatre repertory by the Lloyd Webber version), and the explicit uses of rose and mask iconography in many later film versions including the Chinese 2005 Lei serialization for television.

The essentials of plot and music in the film are retained from the stage version. A music-less opening at an auction of theatre effects prompts the flashback that constitutes the drama in the stage show. This is kept in for the film and extended to more, similar punctuating moments of memory in the film for an elderly Vicomte de Chagny as he reflects on the events of his youth that the drama presents. The score is substantially the same as its musical theatre version. Although a new song was written for the film by Lloyd Webber and Hart, ‘Learn to be Lonely’, it was not included in the narrative but played over closing credits. One of the most immediately striking and pervasive musical changes comes through heightened instrumental forces for the orchestral sound – such a scale of orchestra would be impractical in a theatre pit other than the those of the largest of opera houses. Also, transitions between speech and song are handled differently, with many lines conventionally sung on the stage adapted into a halfway house of rhythmic speech. This—especially when combined with the more intimate vocal styles and recording quality here as with other film musicals of the time and since—tends to undermine some of the sense of commitment to the musical genre itself.

Although there are acknowledgements through elaboration towards the theatre designs for the show: the sets and costumes of the Hannibal opera adopt the colours and staging style of the Björnson designs. Others are substantially altered. Particularly noticeable in this respect is the costume for the Phantom as the Red Death, which becomes a figure-hugging, smart red suit without the caped and feathered finery of the stage’s skull-faced characterization (drawn from one of the 1925 Julian silent film’s landmark colour sequences) – more GQ than grotesque. The film in general indulges a sense of the elaborate and elegant within a saturated Gothic aesthetic, in the process losing much of the distinctions of atmosphere between off-stage, onstage and below ground that make the stage show so atmospheric.

A sequel stage show, Love Never Dies, was staged in London (2010), then in a new production in Melbourne (2011) which was filmed and released on DVD and Blu-ray.

John Snelson


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