on 12 September 2006
Today, after Phantom of the opera became the second longest running musical in history (Cats by the same composer holds the first place) of the West End and the longest running in Broadway, and being one of the most produced of Andrew Lloyd Webber's work around the world, we can only agree with the statement of "The Times" reviewer which appeared on October 10, 1986, a day after the premiere in London, who wrote: "One thing is clear: Gaston Leroux's famous story is God's gift to the musical theatre. It wraps up the legends of Faust, Svengali, and Beauty and the Beast into a grand final death rattle of the romantic agony. It turns a theatre--the Paris Opera--into a replica of the universe, from the Statue of Apollo above the city's rooftops down to the infernal regions with their furnaces and stygian lake. And, musically, not only does it unfold to an accompaniment of the operatic repertoire, but also features a protagonist who is himself a great composer."
Phantom, with its operatic and lush melodies, intensive story and grandiose staging, remains one of the best and most beloved musicals of all time. That status is confirmed by the fact that it is finally going to the big screen - as a movie based on the musical, directed by Joel Schumacher and produced and worked on by Lloyd Webber himself, due to premiere in December 2004.
The musical is based on the Gaston Leroux's novel of the same title. It is set in the second part of the 19th century Paris and its famous opera house. The young soprano, Christine, is discovered as a talented young opera singer in the opera house. She is noticed by an old childhood friend, Raoul, and they fall in love. However, we find out that a third person, the mysterious Phantom, hiding behind a mask, is a musical genius who had been giving Christine singing lessons and who has developed a mad passion for his young pupil. He hides in the catacombs of the opera house, lurking on the outside world. He is determined to keep Christine for himself and the story evolves from here.
Apart from this interesting plot, the audiences were swept away by Lloyd Webber's tremendous score, which probably remains his best work. It combines the beautiful love songs and sweeping operettic arias, with numerous orchestral leads and crescendos. You can't help but being charmed by this beautiful and haunting score. The large numbers, especially, the last one, will probably move you deeply. The most popular numbers are "The phantom of the opera", a vibrating duet between Christine and the Phantom; "All I ask of you", a lovely love duet between Christine and Raul; Phantom's mesmerizing voice will hold you till the end in "The music of the night", Christine in "Wishing you are somehow here again" will evoke sadness, and many more.
One of the main reasons for the early success of this show and this recording was its original cast. Sarah Brightman, who plays Christine, was at that time married to Lloyd Webber and the role was written especially for her. Her soprano is more than adequate for this material and it ranges from low and soft to high and strong. It seems that Michael Crawford was born to play The Phantom not only because of his vocal abilities but also because there is some powerful, almost hypnotic attraction in his voice and performance, exactly how the Phantom is supposed to sound. His vocal transformations from sadness to wickedness are simply amazing. Steve Barton joins The Brightman - Crawford duo with the same power; the warmth in the voice as Raoul says it all. The other members of the cast are also noteworthy, especially Rosemary Ashe, as the snobbish primadonna Carlotta.
The lyrics by Richard Stilgoe and Christopher Hampton work well, despite the fact that some things are left unexplained, such as the source of the Phantom's mysterious powers. The show opened in October 1986 in London and was transferred to Broadway in 1988. It is currently still running on both locations.
The CD package comes with production photos and a full libretto.
The Phantom is a must-have for the musical theatre buffs all over the world.