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Musical to the ears

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews
Article Date: December 10, 2004 | Publication: Hampstead and Highgate Express | Author:
editorial@islingtonexpress.co.uk
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PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

Director: Joel Schumacher

Starring: Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Minnie Driver and Simon Callow

Music Andrew Lloyd Webber

143 mins 12A

Opulent, polished, warm and glittering, this film of Phantom is a close adaptation of the immensely successful Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

The story is innately romantic, suffused with music, drama, perilous love, and a touch of horror. The colours are generally lush crimson, pink, and cream.

Set in an old Parisian opera house, the conflict, as in so many fairy stories, is between an innocent young girl, the singer Christine, (pretty Emmy Rossum - aged sixteen when she got the part) and a menacing baddie, the Phantom, here stylishly and sympathetically played by Gerard Butler.

He wears a mask, and lives in the infinitely deep and watery regions beneath the theatre, which he believes is his to command.

Gaston Leroux' novel, on which the film is based, was published in France almost a hundred years ago and has excited the imagination of filmmakers since the days of silent movies.

This is the seventh film version. The Phantom - actually as corporeal as anyone else - falls in love with Christine, and induces her to visit him in his subterranean lair. She warms to him.

He demands that the opera house give her a leading role but the management defy him, in favour of the diva Carlotta (Minnie Driver).

(Minnie seems out of another production, totally OTT, her hair a confection of white and pink silk ribbons over two feet high.)

Disaster strikes. A stage-hand is killed, caused to fall to his death by the Phantom.

Christine escapes onto the roof of the Opera with her real lover Raoul (Patrick Wilson).

The masked Phantom hears them pledge their loves to each other, and becomes angry and dangerous.

Now a classic musical masked ball. Then the phantom appears, demanding a performance of his new opera, Don Juan.

Christine is to be the lead, Carlotta a maid. Christine visits her father's grave. There stands the Phantom, and now a sword-fight with Raoul.

At the first night of his opera, the Phantom sings on stage, and puts his black-gloved hands round Christine's neck.

Again, she warms to him; and tears off his mask.

Infuriated, he makes the great chandelier crash to the ground, the opera house in flames, he pulls her, "down once more to the dungeons of my black despair down that path that leads to darkness deep as hell".

Christine is given a terrible choice: either she agrees to live with the Phantom forever - or Raoul will die.

"Pity comes too late, turn around and face your fate!" No wonder filmmakers have been fascinated with this story, for it combines so many of the themes of nineteenth century opera, ballet, and fairy tale, most especially that of the innocent young virgin and the big bad wolf.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's music is splendid throughout.

It has been criticised as being derived from that of many great composers. True it is, but there is nothing wrong with that.

Quality is more important than novelty.

Late-nineteenth century Russian music, Richard Strauss, Kurt Weil, Benjamin Britten, Messiaen, and Fiddler, all are fondly remembered here. Emmy Rossum sings just as a young singer should in a musical; she has a clear high voice, plenty of vibrato, quite a bit of tremolo.

And she looks good throughout. Patrick Wilson is fine as Raoul, and Simon Callow as a theatre owner gives an enjoyably florid version of his well-known florid self.

But the night belongs to the Phantom, Gerard Butler, to that great showman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and to the director, Joel Schumacher, who has made the stage version work as a sumptuous, colourful, and engrossing film. One odd thing.

It very much looks as if Christine loved the Phantom more than she loved Raoul.

But, then, Gerard Butler is a very engaging man.

 


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