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THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA – Andrew Lloyd-Webber

December 24, 2004 Leave a comment Go to comments

phantomoftheoperaOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

One of the most beloved musicals in modern history, The Phantom of the Opera was written by British composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber in collaboration with lyricists Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe. It premiered on the London stage with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman in the lead roles, and was an immediate smash hit, with its combination of lush romance, Gothic horror and classic themes of love and loss. Fifteen years later, director Joel Schumacher has finally brought this well-loved musical to the cinema screen as a lavish, large-scale costume-drama which looks set to be successful both at the box-office and at awards ceremonies in 2005.

The story, for those who don’t know it, is loosely based on the novel Le Fântome de l’Opera by Gaston Leroux and concerns events at a Paris opera house in the late 1800s. Firmin (Ciaran Hinds) and Andre (Simon Callow), the theatre’s new owners, and its new patron Raoul (Patrick Wilson) are in preparation for a new production of the opera Hannibal when a tragic accident strikes the rehearsal. The star singer, Carlotta (Minnie Driver), storms off set, and the production looks certain to be shut down until chorus girl Christine (Emmy Rossum) stuns everyone with her beautiful voice and assumed the lead role. Unknown to all, Christine has been secretly receiving singing lessons from the Phantom (Gerard Butler), a mysterious figure who haunts the opera house and severely punishes anyone who does not meet his demands, and who has fallen in love with Christine. However, Raoul and Christine also share a romantic history, and before long a love triangle develops which spells tragedy for all…

The making of the film gave Lloyd-Webber the opportunity to revisit his own music after almost two decades and re-orchestrate it for a full symphony orchestra – something he was unable to do at the time of the recording of the original cast album. Beefed-up with a massive string section, powerful brass and judicious use of synthesizers, the orchestral part of Phantom has never sounded better. Anyone familiar with the themes from the stage production will be amazed at how much better it now sounds.

The music is, of course, unforgettable: very few songs cross over from the theatrical stage into public consciousness – let alone four from the same production, as has happened here. The centerpiece of the show is “The Phantom of the Opera”, a powerful, modern piece which throbs to a bed of rich synthesizers, pulses to electric guitars and is enriched by Christine’s increasingly flamboyant trills and calls as the Phantom weaves his magical spell on her. The Phantom’s show-stopping “Music of the Night”, a darkly romantic homage to the inspiring nature of music is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful melodies ever – and I do mean ever – written. The crescendo which rises after the Phantom sings of the “power of the music of the night” never fails to raise the hairs of the back of the neck, and especially so on this occasion due to the significantly increased orchestral forces in use. Similarly, Christine and Raoul’s beautiful duet “All I Ask of You” and Christine’s moving lament to her dead father, “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”, take on a new lease of life through the combination of Rossum’s lovely vocals and the sweeping lushness of Lloyd-Webber’s orchestrations.

Other songs of note include the enchanting “Angel of Music”, so called for the name the Phantom gives himself to win Christine’s trust; the amusing “Notes”, a showcase for Callow and Hinds; the clever “Prima Donna”, in which up to seven cast members simultaneously sing different lyrics to the same soaring melody, a masterpiece of musical management and harmony; the swirling “Masquerade”, a lavish dance sequence that is as visually sumptuous as it is musically grand; and the triumphant “The Point of No Return”, a dramatic duet between Christine and the Phantom that segues into the operatic, grandiose finale “Down Once More/Track Down This Murderer” in which virtually all the major motifs are recapitulated.

Lloyd-Webber’s new song, “Learn to be Lonely”, performed by Minnie Driver over the end credits, is an unashamed attempt to get a second Oscar following his award for Evita. Unfortunately, it does not quite fit in with the rest of the work as a whole – it sounds too modern to be truly effective, with plucked acoustic guitars and anachronistic lyrics which make it sound more like a boy band ballad. Still, it is likely to be popular with Academy Award voters, and will almost certainly pick up a nomination.

Vocally, it is of course inevitable that the cast will be compared to Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, who made the roles of Phantom and Christine their own in the original London stage version. Theirs is, and always will be, the ultimate gold standard, and it would be unfair to have the film version judged against it. Nevertheless, it has to be said that on the whole the new additions to the Phantom family stand up pretty well. Rossum is certainly an accomplished singer, and hits the high notes in “Think of Me” and “The Phantom of the Opera” without coming anywhere close to cracking. Wilson is accomplished, but just a little bland as Raoul; Callow and Hinds are amusingly pompous as the theatre owners, and Driver is amusingly haughty and spoiled as the diva Carlotta (although her operatic singing voice is dubbed by Margaret Preece).

Unfortunately, the single weak leak is Gerard Butler as the Phantom himself – the emotional anchor for the entire production, and who performs many of the key songs. Butler, an Irish actor best known for his performances in films such as Dracula 2000, Reign of Fire and others, had never sung professionally before being cast in Phantom, and it shows. His voice is more heavy metal than the classical, full of gravel and smoke. His talky delivery and occasionally odd vocal inflections descend into throaty whispers and give his Phantom an angry edge when it should be seductive and enticing. The Phantom is an emotional, tortured genius, not a petulant rock star.

Interestingly, the making of the film gave the opportunity for Lloyd-Webber to write a number of actual score cues for a couple of action scenes and transitional scenes – something he has not attempted since he wrote the scores for Gumshoe and The Odessa File back in the 1970s when he was still a jobbing composer in London. “Journey to the Cemetery”, the longest sequence of unbroken score, is delightful – a mournful viola theme over a bed of swirling brasses and percussion, followed by a classically rich violin solo. Similarly, “Il Muto” and the sensational “Chandelier Crash” make excellent interludes, based as they are around wordless song melodies. However, the end of “Masquerade” and “The Swordfight” highlight the fact that despite his song writing excellence, and with the exception of a few occasional neat touches, Lloyd-Webber is not great at action music. These cues tend to be little more than simple scales up and down the keyboard with added string stingers which show a quite surprising lack of creativity in this regard. Also, most of the score tracks are overlaid with sound effects – hoof beats, grunts, sword clashes, and so on – which further undermine Lloyd-Webber’s work on these cues and merely annoy the listener.

Despite these small faults, and Butler’s wrongly pitched performance, The Phantom of the Opera is still a sumptuous, hugely enjoyable album which will surely appeal to admirers of the original – providing they can forget about Crawford and Brightman and take the film version as a standalone piece. As you have probably gathered, Phantom is my own personal favourite stage musical, and this version contains enough excellent and moments of magic to satisfy me. There are several songs of quite stunning beauty which will appeal to score fans as much as they will to fans of musical theatre.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Prologue (2:47)
  • Overture*/Hannibal (7:25)
  • Think of Me* (6:33)
  • Angel of Music* (2:59)
  • Little Lotte/The Mirror* (4:11)
  • The Phantom of the Opera* (4:23)
  • The Music of the Night* (5:38)
  • Magical Lasso (1:19)
  • I Remember/Stranger Than You Dreamt It (3:21)
  • Notes/Prima Donna* (10:04)
  • Poor Fool He Makes Me Laugh/Il Muto (6:12)
  • Why Have You Brought Me Here/Raoul I’ve Been There (3:04)
  • All I Ask of You* (4:52)
  • All I Ask of You (Reprise)* (2:55)
  • Masquerade*/Why So Silent (8:38)
  • Madame Giry’s Tale/The Fairground (3:29)
  • Journey to the Cemetery (3:29)
  • Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again* (3:41)
  • Wandering Child (1:47)
  • The Swordfight (1:48)
  • We Have All Been Blind (3:55)
  • Don Juan (4:00)
  • The Point of No Return*/Chandelier Crash (6:43)
  • Down Once More/Track Down This Murderer* (14:32)
  • Learn to be Lonely* (2:27)

Tracks marked with a * indicate those which also feature on the Sony Classical single-CD album (SK-93521, 14 tracks, 63:17)

Running Time: 120 minutes 24 seconds

Sony Classical S2K-93522 (2004)

Principal voice cast: Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Margaret Preece, Victor McGuire, Jennifer Ellison, Kevin McNally, Miranda Richardson, Simon Callow, Ciaran Hinds, Jonathan Ellis, David Langham, Halcro Johnston, Minnie Driver.

Music composed by Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Conducted by Simon Lee. Orchestrations by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Lyrics by Charles Hart, Richard Stilgoe and Mike Batt. Recorded and mixed by Robin Sellars, Simon Rhodes and Mike Ross-Trevor. Mastered by Steve Rooke. Album produced by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Nigel Wright.

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