By: Sichun Xia
The Phantom of the Opera is a musical premiered in London in 1986. It is based on Gaston Louis Alfred Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera. In the 19th century, an ugly, vengeful but musically gifted ghost lived deep beneath the Paris Opera House. He secretly helps opera singer Christine become famous and falls in love with her. When he learns that Christine is in love with her childhood friend Raoul, the “Phantom” is heartbroken and channels his pain to seek revenge. The show is very compelling as its narrative is laced with “subversion” that draws out the “Gothic” elements.
From the theatrical point of view, the Phantom of the Opera (musical) is full of Gothic artistic language. First, the play’s narrative structure uses the Gothic art technique. The three parts of “Hannibal”, “The Mute” and “The Triumph of Don Juan” are detached from the original story and are closely linked to the plot of the drama, which has a power of disruption and intervention by extending and bringing new levels of shifts in the play’s narrative. This power constantly makes the plot fluctuate up and down, while at the same time, the new narrative framework –as a clear ode to the Gothic style– unfolds in a frightening way.
A large number of Gothic elements are added to the main line as a secondary foil, so that the play is cut from the same artistic cloth as Gothic architecture: the musical is able to convey the interactive role that architecture (the opera building itself) plays in creating a Gothic atmosphere. For example, in the play “Hannibal”, the Phantom makes his dangerous debut by causing the sudden fall of the stage curtain. This mystery is undermined and replaced with an atmosphere of peace and stability when he later meets Christine, bringing the plot to a low point in terms of tension. However, this stillness in plot is temporary when the death of the curtain changer, the thrill of the masquerade ball and the tenor being hanged occur, advancing the play in its strength of development that leaves the audience and readers alike on edge. The extreme jumps in the narrative rhythm of the main story are as thrilling as the soaring tops of Gothic architecture— just like Trinity College.
The play is also sprinkled with Gothic gloom, which comes from the performance of violence and the fear that anticipates it. Scenes such as the hidden residence of the “Phantom” and Christine inadvertently taking the mask of the Phantom, are full of mysterious excitement. Along with the scene where people were arguing with Christine about whether she should star in “The Triumph of Don Juan”, the Phantom reads a letter so that his threat haunts the audience’s ears and hangs on their hearts. These details are the embodiment of Gothic art, which enhances the feeling of fear that the Phantom invokes.
Finally, the theme of the play is also interpreted through Gothic art techniques. The contemporary Gothic art form has a unique philosophical meaning. Although it has evolved into an extreme state today, with negative elements such as dimness, fear, violence and death, Gothic is not negative for the sake of negativity, but rather an extreme exploration in a certain context, so as to find a higher value of human existence. In the musical the Phantom of the Opera, the “Phantom” superficially brings fear, but when Christian takes off his mask, the “Phantom” is consumed with fear and cannot face himself. Therefore, the “Phantom” is not the source of people’s fear; he is only a representation of fear that comes from within. He is afraid of letting the world see him, afraid of the monstrous perception people have of him, afraid of being turned into a vengeful person and a killer. However, the Phantom is ultimately redeemed by Christine’s kiss and love, and Christine is able to love him because of the Phantom’s teaching, guidance and love for her. In this analysis, the Phantom’s redemption – his salvation – actually comes from his own love. As the outward image of love, Christine awakens the Phantom’s inner conscience and inner love, thus satisfying himself and Raoul. In the end, the “Phantom” leaves his mask behind and disappears, meaning that he is able to face his own ugliness and is no longer afraid, thus completing his self-redemption.
Christine and the Phantom are both the incarnation of an angel, and they are the angels of music and the guardian angel of each other. However, “The Phantom” brings fear to the theatre and is the embodiment of the devil. The image of Satan, the devil in Western Christianity, is a fallen angel. From this perspective, the Phantom’s self-redemption is also a return to its own angelic nature, in line with the Gothic art form’s pursuit of sublime spirituality.