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Opera’s Phantom Continues to Intrigue

When Gaston Leroux wrote his 1909 novel entitled Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, little could he know the lasting impact it would have on stage and film productions over 100 years later. It remains one of the most popular stories told and continues to intrigue audiences worldwide. There have been many theatrical versions adapted from Leroux’s original work and the theatre still puts on regular productions of the show.

Gaston Leroux by Cliche anonyme (copyright free)

The Phantom of the Opera has become a tale of mystery that delights all those that regularly frequent the theatre. It has elements of horror and romance entwined in a more sinister story laced with melancholy. The Phantom is a character associated with horror, but in the novel, he is, in fact, a man deformed from birth and emotionally scarred by the experience.

His lair in the opera house allows him to hide away from society but this isolation, in turn, begins to send him mad. His infatuation with a young opera singer named Christine leads him to extreme acts of violence brought on by jealousy and rage. These themes are part of the reason that the show has had such huge success and has transcended generations.

The first major film production was the 1925 production made by Universal Studios. The tale of how then president of Universal Carl Laemmle is an interesting one. On a trip to Paris, he mentioned to Leroux that he was an admirer of the opera house in Paris. Leroux gave him a copy of his novel and Laemmle read it in one night before deciding to buy the rights to the movie. He had Lon Chaney in mind for the role and that version of the movie is still renown for Chaney’s self-styled ghostly make-up that frightened audiences at the time so much that it drew screams for those watching.

Lon Chaney Phantom of the Opera (copyright free)

It was a huge success, grossing $2m, and one of the most memorable of the 1920s horror movies. It was turned into a hugely successful play when in 1986 Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the music to turn it into an operetta and a West End hit. This transformed it into an all singing, all dancing production that has hit Broadway, Las Vegas and even had a Royal Albert Hall 25th Anniversary show.

It is the most played production in Broadway history, with over 10,000 shows and is the third longest-running show in West End history with only Les Miserables and The Mousetrap surpassing it. Lloyd Webber has helped bring The Phantom of the Opera to the forefront popular culture with the phantom’s signature mask now iconic and instantly recognisable.

Examples in pop culture include Date East’s 1990s pinball machine which is themed on the phantom story. 32Red slots have an online casino slot game also themed on the Phantom of the Opera that allow players to play for real cash prizes and British writer Terry Pratchett released his Discworld novel Maskerade in 1995 that parodies Leroux’s novel.

The popularity of the story continued and a film version based on the Lloyd Webber musical was released in 2004. The film grossed over $155 million worldwide but didn’t go down as well with the film critics. The main issues with the movie, according to commentators like Jonathan Rosenbaum, was that the horror element had been taken out and replaced with a more operetta, over-dramatized style that didn’t appeal to film audiences. In essence, it was a confused version of the two genres: filmic horror and theatre musical. Despite the film not being well received, the Phantom of the Opera still flourishes with Mr Mobi and Palace of Chance also producing online slots themed on the film a bit like that produced by 32Red.

Future movie versions have been discussed and Universal studio were considering remaking the movie as they have done with The Mummy but this has been on hold with Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, both integral to the production, moving onto other projects. The theatre version is still going strong and looks like it will continue for some time to come with the latest Phantom being played by actor Ben Lewis.

If the Phantom is to return to movie screens then the best way to take it is clearly down the horror route. The Phantom’s character is such an intriguing one that audiences are more likely to want to see the depths of his disturbed persona rather than a screen musical which removes the fear element almost entirely. Whatever form the Phantom takes next his story will remain one of the most retold of all time and that doesn’t look like changing anytime soon.

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