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Called upon, they sing the music of the night

Category: Phantom of the Opera News
Article Date: December 23, 2004 | Publication: Sun News | Author: LINDA HOY SOCHA

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NEW YORK -"The Phantom of the Opera" always will be synonymous with the names of Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. Filling their shoes can't be easy, but the Phantom and Christine appearing in the first screen version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's blockbuster musical aren't haunted by ghosts from the past.

"The singing was a wondrous and thoroughly inspiring experience," says this movie Phantom, Gerard Butler. "At the same time, it was hard. It was stressful because I was learning from scratch. I hadn't been a singer before."

The 35-year-old Scot, last seen in "Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life," hired a voice trainer and took singing lessons to prepare. "I never found that whole process very difficult because it was either I can do this or I can't. If they said I couldn't do it, then I wouldn't want to."

As Christine, the young singer at the Paris Opera who captivates the Phantom, Emmy Rossum was on familiar territory. The 18-year-old has been singing at the Metropolitan Opera here since she was 7.

"It's something that's always come naturally to me, as easy as breathing," she says. Her performance here is Golden Globe-nominated as best actress in a comedy or musical. Her contribution to 2001's "Songcatcher" also drew critical acclaim.

As the movie "Phantom" begins, Rossum deliberately sang in softer, more innocent tones, but as Christine begins to change, her voice grows stronger and richer.

Butler, too, used song to express the Phantom's powerful emotions. "I had to express so much in my voice, which I think will work for some people and not for others.

"Some people want to hear more perfect singing," he admits. "Others want to hear the feelings and the emotion, the passion and pain. That's what I went for."

It was the pain experienced by the Phantom, a tortured soul who lives in the underground chambers of the opera house to hide his partially disfigured face, that sold Butler on the part.

"When I felt his struggle and his passion, he touched an inalienable fear in me and many things I've been through in my life," he reveals in his charming natural Scottish brogue. The youngest of three born in Glasgow, Butler's parents split when he was a boy. A period of estrangement from his father followed.

"It was tough," he says. "I didn't grow up with a lot of money, I didn't grow up in the nicest of areas."

In his early adulthood, he began to pursue a career in law, but that led to one of the darkest times in his life. "I sang in a rock band, which was my one creative outlet. I laugh and joke about it now, but it actually it was a horrible, painful period. I really didn't know where I was going, and I had no intentions or inclination to be a lawyer."

He eventually was fired, then moved to London to become an actor. "A decision made in complete insanity," he says, smiling now. "It came from this vacuum of 'Well, I've messed up my whole life, so why not head for the stars?' "

Rossum has traveled a somewhat steadier career path. "I've always been happy to be working. When I was on stage at age 7, I earned $5 a night. There was a horse on stage getting $150."

Now that she's on the cover of Elle magazine, Rossum admits life has changed. She's recognized on the street here in the Big Apple, where she attends Columbia University.

"I grew up in a household with strong ethics and morals," she says. "I'm underage. I don't go to clubs. I have the same friends I've always had. I don't party with movie stars."

A commendable 'Opera' is short on voice

With a worldwide audience of rabid fans and a Golden Globe nomination, "The Phantom of the Opera" should fare well at the box office. Though the stage magic of the Andrew Lloyd Webber spectacle loses a lot on the big screen, those enraptured by "The Music of the Night" aren't likely to be disappointed.

Gerard Butler is a sensitive and compelling Phantom, though he lacks Michael Crawford's vocal prowess. Emmy Rossum (who turned heads in "Songcatcher"), while no Sarah Brightman, is a sufficiently winsome Christine.

However, the person who really dazzles does not sing a note until the end credits. Minnie Driver's deliciously campy diva Carlotta is dubbed. Driver does provide the final song, a new one titled "Learn to Be Lonely."

The casting of Christine's romantic young suitor, Raoul (Patrick Wilson, "The Alamo"), is the one largely false note. He needs more good looks (and a haircut!) to be convincing as rival to the smoldering passion of Butler's Phantom.


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