Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Gothic On the Stage: The Phantom of the Opera

Softly, deftly, music shall caress you
hear it, feel it, secretly possess you
Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind
In this darkness that you know you cannot fight
The darkness of the music of the night


When the curtains went up, I sat there in bated breath, ready to be dazzled by the grand spectacle of The Phantom of the Opera. And when the curtains went down with an abrupt finality, my friend and I broke down crying. 

For me, this was my second time watching The Phantom of the Opera, the first time in 2007 when I was only nine. But ever since then, I have loved the Phantom-- the triumphant, misunderstood genius and poor, twisted creature-- with a burning passion. I adored his voice, his aura of enigma, his mask, his tragic past, his brilliance in music, his obsession with Christine and the eventual sacrifice of his love that both redeems and destroys him. 

Perhaps, because I only just recently read Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, I was particularly mindful of the various Gothic elements that jumped out at me throughout the entire duration of the musical. 

The Phantom himself is the embodiment of the mystic and the mysterious. His presence in Christine's life represents a blurring of the boundaries between the natural and the supernatural, and his unsettling flair for singing about sensual themes that challenges the social conventions then is in truth, I believe, an outlet for the condemned and repressed darkness of the human mind. 

Christine's absolute haplessness and helplessness when surrendering to the Phantom's music is another favorite motif in Gothic literature, that of the poor damsel being exploited by a sinister identity. 

Labyrinths, dark corridors, winding staircases, graveyards, dungeons, crypts, demonic fires, death and failing candles... All these stock motifs of the Gothic novel were alive and in action in the opera. 

But, to me, what liberates the Phantom from his antagonistic position and glorifies him, is the beautiful and heartbreaking music and lyrics of his songs. The ultimate victim in this musical, in my opinion, is neither Christine nor any of the opera house members who died, but the Phantom himself.

His demise salvages him but destroys his music and therefore robs him of his most precious love-- the love of music which had originally sustained him.     

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