Monday, May 27, 2013

Common sense doesn't apply to sopranos

Last night, NetFlix showed me the 25 Anniversary Phantom of the Opera LIVE at Albert Hall. Which, while I really enjoyed watching my favorite musical, the story Andrew Lloyd Weber portrays is not quite Gaston Leroux's source material as it could be. Not that any adaption really is, since most modern retellings focus on the romance rather than the tragedy.

See, Erik, aka the Phantom, is not a happy or particularly sane man, and Christine Daae isn't exactly the brightest crayon in the box. Her lover Raoul is impulsive and quite irrational in his steps.

They're the heart of the story, yes, but so much more is going on around them. (Leroux was a mystery writer, so it should come as no great surprise that much of the novel focuses on Erik's crimes.) Like the missing money, disappearing sopranos, people getting hung...

Maybe it would help to start at the very beginning. Christine is a budding Soprano stuck in the chorus until the Diva Carlotta is ill. Christine, who as far as any one knows sings like a rusty hinge, steps up and wows the crowd of patrons. (It should be noted here that Carlotta is not exactly the world's nicest Prima Donna. Leroux takes a paragraph or two to explain how Carlotta is quite heartless, using men to rise from singing at bawdy houses to singing Marguerite in Faust.) New managers take over the opera (Armand and Fermin), and find out that not only are the previous managers happy to go, but they've inherited quite a greedy ghost. Who demands salary payments and the leaving of Box 5 at every opening performance that he might enjoy the show. They talk to Madame Giry, who serves as the ghost's personal valet when he's seated in Box 5, who tells them that the ghost is a good tipper, and the reasons she serves him is a note he left promising her daughter, Meg (a dancer in the corps de ballet), the chance to marry nobility.

Well, being business men, of course they don't listen.

In the meantime, Christine (who's rather like 19th century white trash), has caught the eye of her childhood friend, the Vicomte de Chagny. Raoul is young and impulsive, and won't listen to his older brother, Comte Philippe de Chagny. Philippe encourages Raoul not to get involved with Christine. (Hell, later on, when Raoul follows Christine to her father's grave, the ghost tells him not to get involved.)


The new managers fire Mme. Giry, thinking she's the reason behind the extortion. They also sell Box 5. And give Christine a minor role, sticking Carlotta in the lead. Let's see... the Phantom is heard talking directly into the ears of the folks in Box 5, revealing the infidelity of the wife of the patron. Carlotta croaks like a frog in the middle of an aria, and the chandelier drops, landing on the head of the woman hired to replace Mme. Giry.

Raoul and Christine start a "pretend" engagement (Christine says they can never be married), and shows him some of the secrets of the upper floors of the Opera. (Which are some of the most interesting tidbits of the book. People living in the opera, the characters therein...). She avoids the sublevels of the opera, not telling Raoul until later that those are Erik's domain.

As they bond and fall more in love, Christine finally reveals her knowledge of the Phantom. The voice in her room teaching her to sing using the methodology employed by her father the violinist, the voice that claims to be the Angel of Music. Of falling into a mirror, crossing a lake 4 sublevels down to the Phantom's house... ripping off his mask to find a skull looking back at her. (Yes, Erik is horribly disfigured.) Finding his opera, a retelling of Don Juan, who lives in hell rather than being taken there by a statue he invited to dinner.

They work out a plan to elope and escape after a performance of Faust.

When Faust begins, we find out that the Ghost has demanded quite a lump sum of cash from the managers and demanded also that Christine sing Marguerite.

The cash, safety pinned to Fermin, vanishes. Christine vanishes in the middle of the opera. Raoul goes notes. It's at this point the narrative goes first person, drawn from the diary of The Persian, one of the eccentrics living in and around the Opera. Seems The Persian knew Erik back in the day, and more or less has been caretaking/keeping an eye on Erik for quite some time. He tells of of Erik's time in the Rosy Hours of Mazendaran. Which isn't in great detail, beyond Erik teaching a sultaness of how to use a noose and Punjab Lasso.

The Persian and Raoul decide not to attempt the lake to get to Erik's house, since the "Sea Monster" might be there. They instead find the back door to Erik's house (after running in to The Ratcatcher and The Fireman [who gets a footnote saying something to the effect that he has a story of his own that never gets told] ) and fall into Erik's torture chamber.

Erik's torture chamber is an octagonal room made of mirrors. Raoul and the Persian spend what seems like a few days in the torture chamber (which more or less simulated being trapped in an iron forest until the prisoners hang themselves), listening to Erik begging, cajoling, and threatening Christine to marry him. He gives her a choice between two statues, one which will flood the gunpowder and one that will blow up the Opera and a few surrounding blocks of Paris.

She chooses marriage and floods the torture chamber which sat on top of the gunpowder.

At the end of The Persian's narrative, we find out that Erik ended up realasing Christine after she kissed his naked face without revulsion, letting her go to her one true love, Raoul. He dies a few weeks later of a broken heart.

The book ends with Leroux telling us the reason he wrote the book is because of a skeleton wearing a wedding ring found in the basements of a renovating Opera. Not a victim of the Revolution, Leroux believes the skeleton to be Erik, who should be buried with full honors.

Like I said, not exactly romantic, unless your idea of romance involves having your stalker threaten to blow up a city block because you won't love him.