Since “The Phantom of the Opera” was first shown in October 9, 1986 at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London it does not stop to attract the attention of the audience. What is the reason for the musical being so popular for so many years long? How did the character of the ivory white mask manage to become immortal?
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We suppose that the problems discussed in “The Phantom” and the way the director used the effects to reveal them contribute to the musical’s success.
The threadbare topic of love has acquired some new interpretation in the work under consideration. The theme of personal sacrifice for the benefit of the lover seems to be one of the most debatable among the themes which the musical touches upon. Does to love someone mean to sacrifice? This is the question that “The Phantom of the Opera” asks the audience and this is this crucial theme that makes the work undying.
Love triangle is no longer surprising. The relationships among the main characters of “The Phantom” are quite ordinary: Raoul and Erik loved affectionately the beautiful Christine, but she never knew about her real feelings to both of them. Was it love that she felt towards Raoul, or, did a mere remembrance of the past lead her feelings? Was it a passion that Christine felt to the Phantom, or, a mere feeling of sympathy? When the day of decision came, she needed to become honest with herself and answer these questions for the benefit of all three. The decision was closely related to Christine’s ability to sacrifice to preserve her feelings both to Raoul and to Erik. This decision was not made just at the end of the musical. Christine attempted to take it all performance long.
Revealing the controversial issue of sacrifice was possible due to the effects that were used in the musical. We consider the effects of light in its various forms to be a necessary component of the production that helped the director to create particular moments on stage that contributed to the main theme.
The interior of “The Phantom” looks like a 19th-century opera house. The audience observes a chandelier; this is the most significant component of the light system created by the director. The chandelier is used in the show intentionally for two purposes. First, the broken chandelier conveys the dreadful state of the Paris Opera House. It makes the audience anticipate something awful to happen. The audience still does not know what to expect but understands that the dilapidated chandelier spells trouble. Second, the scene when the chandelier is ruined by the Phantom serves as the climax of the musical. The image of chandelier is one of the brightest in the work in every sense of the word.
The light is used by the director throughout the musical. It helps to reveal the characters’ feelings to each other. For example, when the Phantom seats near Christine and plays organ with furious concentration, the light brightens. It seems that this play of the Phantom is a light in darkness; it is the proof of his love towards Christine. When the musical box (one more symbol of love in the musical) beside Christine’s bed starts playing, the light brightens with even more power than before. This might mean that the Phantom’s feelings increase at the moment.
The absence of light on the stage, on the contrary, helps the audience understand that something awful is going to happen. When Christine succeeds in tearing the mask from the Phantom’s face, she clearly sees it, but the audience fails to do it, as the shadow is created to hide Erik’s face. Shadow always has some mysterious meaning and this musical is not an exception. The viewer is at a loss about the Phantom’s appearance, he or she does not realize for sure the awfulness that the face bears. The shadow created in this scene is a sort of embodiment of the relationships between Christine and the Phantom, as none can know whether the girl loves Erik or not. The shadow falls down on the very essence of love; Christine herself cannot make out her feelings towards the Phantom. We should point out that shadow is used in the musical every time when Christine’s uncertainty about her feelings is depicted.
The absence of light is also crucial when the characters are shown in the labyrinth created by Erik. “Where night is blind the Phantom of the Opera is there: inside your/my mind.” The growing darkness increases the horrible feeling, for the audience the darkness means Christine’s doubt about the decision she is about to take.
When Christine comes back from the labyrinth, she describes it as the “world of unending night”, the world “where the daylight dissolves into darkness”. The word “darkness” is repeated quite often throughout the musical. It is expected to render the dubious feelings that Christine had to both young men. The darkness meant for her the absence of reasonable way out from the situation in which she found herself.
As we have already discussed above, the chandelier performs a significant part in the musical. Now it is worth mentioning the importance that each and every chandelier’s light has in the work. When Carlotta’s speech turns into the combination of strange sounds, the Phantom’s laughter rises and the chandelier’s lights blink on and off. This is a sign of the tragedy that is rapidly approaching. When the “Il Muto” finishes and Christine, conspicuously dressed in Carlotta’s costume, appears on the stage, the maniacal laughter of the Phantom is heard. Erik himself is seen above the stage “perilously rocking the chandelier. The lights of the chandelier begin flickering and, at a great cry from him, it descends, swinging more and more madly over the orchestra pit.” Here is the disaster. This is the brightest Erik’s attempt to attract Christine’s attention.
Also, the director resorts to the power of flame to render the sharpening of Erik’s and Raoul’s affectionate feelings to Christine. When Erik sees Raoul and Christine together, he uses fire streaks from the gaping mouth but this does not scares Raoul, as he believes in the power of his love. When the Phantom finally damns Raoul and Christine’s love, “there is a flesh of lighting and the stage erupts into flame.” This seems to be Erik’s renunciation of love, but we understand that Erik will not give up so simply.
It is interesting to admit that the power of fire is resorted to when the characters try to seize the Phantom. The chief fire officer and two fire marshals prepare a trap for the Phantom. Therefore, the image of fire is used by the director as a power that contradicts the one that the Phantom has. But this is the power of love that always wins.
In the final scene we get to know that Erik’s feelings to Christine remain as powerful as ever. His sacrifice is the best evidence of his love. It is important to observe that light performs an important role in this scene as well. “The Phantom has burnt the thread by which the noose was held” thus saving the life of Raoul. In this scene we make sure once more that only the heart that is able to love can sacrifice for the benefit of the beloved person. As for Christine, we still believe that she was not sure about her feelings to each of the boys. Her choice of Raoul does not necessarily mean that she loves him, it just means that the time to make a decision has come and the decision that she made seemed to be the most suitable one.
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Someone may be convinced that Christine loved Raoul. Moreover, the usage of light in some scenes may serve as a good evidence of this. For example, when the girl is with Erik, the light is dim, when she is with Raoul the light is bright. But, unfortunately we cannot fully rely on this effect of the production, no mater how helpful in comprehending the problem of love it might have.
Though the above mentioned cases of light usage approached us to understanding the main characters’ feelings, the latter still remain mysterious for the public. And, may be, this is in this mystery the success of “The Phantom” is rooted. One thing remains obvious: “The Phantom” teaches us to appreciate human values, it makes us different from the ones were we before, it makes us better.