The Phantom of the Opera

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The Phantom of the Opera

Author Biography
Plot Summary
Historical Context
Critical Overview
Further Reading

Gaston Leroux


Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera, first published in 1910, remained a perennial favorite throughout the twentieth century and into the early 2000s. It was adapted to several popular motion pictures and into one of the most successful stage musicals of all time. Its main character, Erik, is a romantic figure whose appeal reaches across different cultures and times. He is a sensitive soul, an accomplished composer and musician whose great unfinished work, Don Juan Triumphant, is described as breathtakingly beautiful by the one person he allows to hear it; he is an object of pity, whose face has been disfigured from birth, causing him to hide behind a silk mask; and he is hopelessly in love with a young woman whom he can never seriously hope will love him back. At the same time, he a dangerous, menacing figure, lurking in the hidden catacombs beneath the opera house and blackmailing those who will not bow to his whims. He can hear things said in privacy and can create catastrophes that might or might not be the accidents that they seem to be.

Like other precursors of modern superheroes, such as the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Frankenstein's creature, Erik balances sympathy with horror, admiration with revulsion. Set in one of the most beautiful buildings in Europe, this story of the love triangle between the phantom, the young peasant-born opera singer he loves, and the dashing viscount who she loves, was written as a thriller, and it continued to excite the imaginations of readers into the twenty-first century.

Author Biography

Gaston Leroux was born in Paris on May 6, 1868, a month before his parents, Dominique Alfred Leroux and Marie Bidault, were married. His father was a public works contractor. After Gaston was born, his parents went on to have two more sons and a daughter.

Gaston Leroux went away to school when he was twelve, graduating with honors at age eighteen. He then went to Caen to study law. In the meantime, his mother died, and his father died soon after Leroux turned twenty. As head of the household, he returned to Paris, where he reluctantly finished studying to be a lawyer, passing the tests required for his license. He preferred writing, however, and began covering trials for smaller papers, which led, in 1893, to a full-time position as a reporter for Le Matin. Tremendously successful as a newspaper reporter, he stayed at Le Matin for nearly thirteen years. It was an exciting life of global travel, for which he became a celebrity. Soon after he married Marie Lafranc, he realized that the marriage was a mistake; they separated, but she refused to grant him a divorce. He fell in love with another woman, Jeanne Cayatte, and they had a son together, although they were not able to marry until Marie Lafranc died in 1917.

His journalistic career ended suddenly, in 1907, when, after his return from covering a volcano eruption, he sought to relax with a few days of vacation time: his editor ordered him to go out on another assignment, and he spontaneously quit. Having already published one minor novel, he turned to writing fiction. From 1907 until his death in 1927, he published thirty-three novels, as well as twelve short stories and six screenplays.

Leroux died suddenly, unexpectedly, of natural causes on April 27, 1927.

Plot Summary


In the Preface to The Phantom of the Opera, the book's narrator tells of the methods he used to research the legend of the phantom. Writing roughly thirty years after the events conveyed in the novel, he tells of his research in the library at the Paris Opera house; his interviews with people who were present at the time; his reliance on the memoirs of one of the opera's directors at that time; and his own study of the opera house.

Chapters 1–5

The first three chapters take place on the night that the old opera directors are retiring and turning over the directorship to Armand Moncharmin and Firmin Richard. While the performers are preparing for the night's show, several of the dancers claim to have seen the phantom. In the basement, Joseph Buquet, the chief stagehand, is found hanged.

At the retirement party, all attention is drawn to the mature, nuanced performance of Christine Daaé, previously an obscure understudy. Raoul de Chegny, attending the opera with his older brother, Count Phillippe de Chegny, falls in love with Christine. When she faints, Raoul pushes his way into the crowd in her dressing room and tells her that he is the little boy who chased her scarf into the sea. After the room is cleared, he listens out-side the door and hears a male voice talking with her inside, saying that he has made her a star.

The retiring directors tell the new directors about the phantom and his demands: he is to have Box 5 always left available to him, and he is to have 20,000 francs paid to him each month. Moncharmin and Richard think this is a joke, and they rent Box Five. Soon after they receive a letter from the phantom, expressing his displeasure about his rules being broken.

Chapters 6–10

The novel gives background information. Christine traveled as a child with her father, an accomplished violinist, settling in the French seaside town of Perros-Guirec. It was there that she first met Raoul de Chegny when her scarf blew into the water, and he dived in to retrieve it. They were separated until he saw her on the stage at the opera.

Christine sends a note to Raoul, telling him to meet her in Perros. When he arrives, she is mysterious and aloof. She explains that the voice he heard in her dressing room was the Angel of Music, whom her father said would watch over her. Raoul follows her to the cemetery at midnight, where, at the tomb of her father, he hears violin music. The next day, he is found unconscious at the tomb, having been attacked by a mysterious cloaked figure with a face like a blazing skull.

Messrs. Richard and Moncharmin investigate Box 5 and are convinced that the whole phantom story is a hoax. They receive a note insisting that Mme. Giry be rehired; that Christine be given the lead in Faust; and that Box 5 be left abandoned: otherwise, the performance will be cursed. Instead, they hire a new box attendant, give the lead role to Carlotta, and sit in Box 5 themselves. During the performance, Carlotta's voice croaks like a frog's, and the house chandelier drops onto the audience, hurting dozens and killing the woman hired to replace Mme. Giry.

Christine disappears after that performance. Hearing that she has been seen riding in a carriage at night in the Bois de Boulogne, Raoul goes there and sees her ride past. She sends him a note, telling him to meet her at a masked ball at the opera house, and what costume to wear. He meets her at the ball, but lurking about there is also a mysterious figure wearing a feathered costume and skull mask. Christine tells Raoul that she cannot see him any more, and when he follows her to her dressing room he sees her disappear into her mirror.

Chapters 11–16

The next day, Raoul goes to Mme. Valerius, who is Christine's guardian, and Christine is there, acting as if nothing had happened the night before. She says that she loves Raoul but cannot see him any more.

When he tells her that he must leave within a month, Christine agrees to a secret engagement with Raoul. She explains to him that the phantom, Erik, is in love with her and insanely jealous and that he is dangerous. She leads Raoul to the roof of the opera house, assuming that Erik cannot hear them talk there. She tells him about being fooled by Erik into thinking that he was the Angel of Music her father talked about, about being held in the basement by the phantom, about listening to his beautiful violin playing and then removing his mask and seeing his grotesque, death-like face. She explains that he finally agreed to let her go hoping to win her love freely. While on the roof, they have a feeling that they are being watched. The next day, Raoul talks with his brother, Philippe, and tells him that he is running away with Christine; Philippe does not approve.

Media Adaptations

  • The 1925 silent film version of The Phantom of the Opera was one of the first horror films ever made and remains one of the most influential movies in film history. Lon Chaney Sr. played Erik, the phantom, and Mary Philbin played Christine. The film was directed by Rupert Julian. It was re-released in 1929, with edits and a new score. Both versions are available on DVD in a package called The Phantom of the Opera—The Ultimate Edition, from Image Entertainment.
  • A second movie was made in 1943, with Claude Rains and Nelson Eddy. This one used all of the sets from the original silent film and augmented them with sound and color. It is available on DVD from Universal.
  • The version of this story that is perhaps most familiar to late twentieth-century and twenty-first century audiences is the musical version that debuted at Her Majesty's Theater in London on October 9, 1986, and as of 2004 was still running. The music is by Andrew Lloyd Weber, and the lyrics are by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe. By the early 2000s it had been in more than fifty major theaters worldwide and had won more than ninety major awards.
  • In 1989, a theatrical motion picture version of The Phantom of the Opera was released, starring Robert Englund and Jill Scholen. It is available on videocassette and DVD from Columbia Tristar.
  • In 1990, Tony Richardson directed a miniseries of the phantom story for USA network, featuring Charles Dance, Burt Lancaster, and Teri Polo. It is available on DVD from Image Entertainment.
  • An unabridged audio reading of this book, read by Barrett Whitener, is available for download from

The following night, in the middle of a performance, the lights go out at the opera. When they come on again, Christine is missing from the stage.

Chapters 17–21

The managers have locked themselves in their office, trying to figure out how the phantom could have changed an envelope of money to counterfeit bills. Mme. Giry explains that she switched envelopes and put the real bills into M. Richard's coat pocket, so they pin an envelope of cash into his pocket, only to find, soon after hearing of Christine's disappearance, that the envelope is mysteriously empty.

The Persian, a mysterious figure who has been seen around the opera house, stops Raoul from telling the police about Erik. He leads Raoul to Christine's dressing room and shows him the mechanism by which she appeared to disappear into her mirror. Then he leads Raoul into the cellars of the opera house.

Walking through the cellars, they pass the furnaces and the opera's rat catcher leading a small army of rats to their doom, but they do not see the phantom.

Chapters 22–26

These chapters are told as passages from the Persian's written account of that night. He leads Raoul to a secret panel that will drop them into Erik's house from the cellar above it, without having to cross the lake that he rowed Christine across. They land, however, in a room called the torture chamber and are trapped there. Erik, demanding that Christine agree to marry him, hears them in there and turns the chamber on: bright electric heat lamps and mirrored walls make it seem like a tropical jungle. When the Persian finds a release switch, they escape down into Erik's wine cellar, only to find that the barrels there are not filled with wine, but with enough gun powder to blow up half of Paris.

Above them, Christine is told to turn one knob if she accepts Erik's proposal and another if she rejects him, unaware that the rejection knob will trigger the gunpowder. She turns the one to accept him, and the wine cellar floods with water. At the last minute, Erik has a change of heart and saves Raoul and the Persian from drowning.. Erik goes to the Persian while he is recuperating from that night and says that he set Christine and Raoul free to marry each other and that he is dying of heartbreak. He asks him to place an obituary in the paper after his death, so that the young lovers will know.

The book's Epilogue tells the history of the phantom: how he learned about magic and construction and ventriloquism, how he came to work at the construction site of the opera building, and how he was able to elude detection for so long.


Joseph Buquet

Joseph is a stagehand who has seen the phantom in the opera house's third basement. He is found hanged in the cellar, but when people go to retrieve his body, the rope is missing. Later in the book, the Persian guesses that the phantom killed Buquet with a device called the Punjab lasso.


Carlotta is the opera's female lead, for whom Christine Daaé is an understudy. Carlotta is a technically accomplished singer but does not sing with soul. The phantom threatens her if she goes onstage as Marguerite in Faust, but she refuses to be intimidated; as a result, the sound of a croaking frog comes out when she sings.

Christine Daaé

Christine in Sweden was raised by her father, a traveling violinist. As he was dying, he explained to her that he would remain with her and guide her through the Spirit of Music. As a young singer with the Paris Opera, Christine heard Erik speaking to her from behind a wall; she asked if he were the spirit that her father had told her about, and for a while he said that he was. He taught her to sing well, so that, given her first chance for public attention, she sings so beautifully that much of Parisian society takes notice of her. That night, though, she runs into Raoul de Chagny, whom she met and fell in love with as a child; her love for Raoul makes Erik jealous, who does what he can to make her his. He promises her the freedom to leave him but then, unable to let her go, kidnaps her and gives her a short time to consent to marry him before killing her. She tries unsuccessfully to fool him into thinking that she will love him, but he is still moved by her love for Raoul enough to let them leave.

Philippe de Chagny

Forty-one-year-old Count de Chagny, whose given name is Phillippe-Georges-Marie, is the oldest of his family and since the deaths of his parents has been responsible for one of the oldest families in Europe, which includes his brother Raoul, who is almost half his age. He disapproves of his brother's romance with Christine Daaé, so that when she disappears from the opera stage Count de Chagny is a primary suspect. Later, he is found drowned in the lake that protects the phantom's house from the outside world, but the phantom denies any responsibility for his death, saying that Philippe fell out of his boat by accident even before any of the lake's traps could get to him.

Raoul de Chagny

As the youngest member of the prestigious de Chagny family, Raoul has been raised by a sister and old aunt. At the time of the novel he is twenty years old and scheduled to go into the navy and, while waiting for his orders, is spending a few weeks in Paris with his brother Phillippe. He sees Christine Daaé on the stage of the opera and remembers her as the little girl whom he met and fell in love with years earlier, when her scarf blew into the water and he dove in to retrieve it. He can tell that Christine loves him, too, but she tries to send him away frequently, worried that Erik, the phantom, will hurt him. He and Christine agree to a secret engagement, but when their engagement becomes publicized the phantom abducts Christine. The novel's last chapters are about how Raoul, with the help of the stranger known as the Persian, infiltrates the phantom's hidden underground house in an attempt to free Christine. They fail, and Raoul is in danger of drowning before the phantom has a change of heart and agrees to let Christine leave with him, even though it breaks his heart and he dies as a result.

Monsieur Debienne

With Monsieur Poligny, Debienne is one of the directors of the Paris Opera who is retiring in the opening chapters of the novel.


Erik is the name that the phantom of the Opera has taken for himself; his real name is never revealed in the book. He was born deformed, and it was his mother, whom Eric refers to several times, who gave him his first mask. He was born in a little town near Rouen but ran away as a young man, sometimes exhibiting his gruesome looks at country fairs under the title of the living dead man. As a performer, he learned to become proficient as a musician, a magician, and as a ventriloquist. Summoned by a shah to Persia, he designed a palace with hidden panels and trap doors. The shah ordered him executed, to keep the palace's secrets unknown, but the Persian helped Erik escape.

In Paris, Erik was part of the construction team that helped Charles Garnier build the Paris opera house. Because he knows where the secret passageways are, he is able to move about the opera house without being seen. Because he is proficient in ventriloquism, he is able to speak from hidden places and to make people think that his voice is coming from the empty air beside them. And he uses his musical skill to compose a masterful violin opus, Don Juan Triumphant, which he has worked on for decades in his home in the opera house's cellars.

As the phantom, Erik demands that the managers of the opera give him an annual stipend and a private box. Erik falls in love with Christine when he meets her. For a while, he pretends to be the Spirit of Music that her father once told her about, and he trains her to become a great singer. When he is unable to make her love him, though, he becomes insane. He kidnaps her and eventually threatens to blow up a quarter of the town with all of the gunpowder he has hidden beneath the opera house. In the end, though, his heart is softened by her promise to love him, and he lets Christine and Raoul go free to marry each other. When he last appears in the novel, it is to tell the Persian that he is dying of a broken heart.

Mme. Giry

The mother of the girl known as Little Meg, Mme. Giry is also the attendant of Box Number 5, which is reserved for the phantom. She has never seen him, but she does services for him, like bringing a program and a footstool to the box. In return, he leaves her tips and gifts. When she is fired by the opera's directors, a huge chandelier falls on the audience, killing just one person: the woman hired to replace Mme. Giry. She is assigned to deliver money to the phantom, and when the money in the envelope is changed for counterfeit money, the directors threaten to turn her over to the police until they find out that she could not possibly have stolen it. They do find out why she is so interested in helping the phantom; in addition to the tips that he gives her, he has predicted that Little Meg will be the empress by 1885.

La Sorelli

One of the opera's featured dancers, La Sorelli is a diva who expects to be the center of attention. When she dances, the narrator explains, "she appears to be in a tableau so lascivious that it could drive a man to blow his brains out." But she is also presented as a vain, stubborn woman.

Monsieur Lachenal

Monsieur Lachenal is the stable master of the opera house, in charge of the horses that are trained to perform in operas.

Armand Moncharmin

One of the new directors of the opera, Moncharmin has no musical training but is rich and socially connected. His working relationship with M. Richard is threatened when the phantom is able to steal an envelope of money from Richard's pocket. The book's narrator relies on Moncharmin's autobiography, The Memoirs of a Director, as a primary source for the events reported in the book.

The Persian

The Persian is a witness of the events at the opera house, whom the narrator interviews about what happened to Raoul de Chegny and Christine Daaé. The Persian is so famous that he cannot be referred to by his real name. He is a shadowy figure throughout much of the story, until the final chapters. Then, it turns out that he has known Erik, the phantom, for years, from the time when he was the daroga, or chief of the national police. In Persia, he saved Erik from execution and lost his government position because of it. He knows many of the secrets of the phantom's underground world, having followed him and observed him and once having nearly been killed by one of his traps in the underground lake.

When Christine is kidnapped, the Persian steps forward to help Raoul find his way through the underground world to the place where she may have been taken. In the course of the rescue mission, his advice is invaluable, but he nearly loses his life when the cellar he is in is flooded. The phantom saves him, though, and, after making sure he is all right, knocks him out with drugs and deposits him in a doorway.

Monsieur Poligny

With Monsieur Debienne, Monsieur Poligny is one of the directors of the Paris Opera who is retiring in the opening chapters of the novel.

Firmin Richard

One of the opera's new directors, Richard is an accomplished musician and composer. He is characterized as loving all types of music and all musicians. He is skeptical of the existence of the phantom and hesitates about giving in to his demands. When the money disappears from an envelope that is pinned in his pocket, he and his partner, M. Moncharmin, become suspicious of each other, a suspicion that seems, according to Moncharmin's memoirs, to last throughout their professional relationship.

Madame Maudie Valerius

Christine is staying at the house of Mme. Valerius, an old friend of her father. Raoul de Chagny goes to the house when Christine disappears the first time, but Mme. Valerius cannot tell him where she is. She is convinced that Christine has gone away with the Spirit of Music.


Appearance and Reality

The fact that The Phantom of the Opera takes place behind the scenes of the opera almost automatically draws readers' attention to the disparity between reality and appearances. Leroux gives backstage details, starting with the dancers who line up in the first chapter, gossiping, and continuing on to point out the backdrops and the business arrangements that few opera goers are allowed to see. Un-like most backstage stories, though, this novel also goes into details about the Paris opera house that few of the average workers would be aware of, such as the complicated system of tunnels underneath the building, with furnaces and prisons and hoards of rats and even a lake. Some of these details might be exaggerated from reality, but they are plausible as the reality of the novel. They clearly indicate that, as much as the sets and costumes create a false world on the stage, the opera house that visitors enter only reveals part of the story regarding what it takes to put on a grand spectacle.

The phantom himself is also used as a symbol to represent the ways that reality and appearance differ. The most obvious example of this is, of course, the mask that he wears. When he is wearing his mask, Christine can believe that he is a poor, misunderstood man who has just not been given the attention he deserves. When he represents himself to her as the Spirit of Music, she responds to his musical gift and really does see him as angelic. Once she sees Erik without his mask, however, she is so horrified that she can never think fondly of him again.

In addition to the phantom's looks, however, his whole existence is one big charade. He is greatly gifted, but his talents are in making voices seem to appear where no one is actually talking; in coming and going without being seen; in overhearing conversations that seem to be private; and in making people think that they see things that are impossible, as in when his torture chamber turns out to be a hall of illusions. He is known as a phantom for a reason: no one is ever really sure that he exists.


The phantom's anger with the society that has rejected him is balanced in this novel with the simple innocence of the love between Christine Daaé and Raoul de Chagny. Christine's life story is surrounded by the sort of heartwarming and fantastic details that are common in fairy tales. Her father, for instance, is a kindly old soul and an incredibly talented musician. He fills her childhood with the sweet view of the world that is found in folk stories. Before he dies, he tells Christine that she will be watched over by the Spirit of Music, which at first serves to give her comfort but later, as is common with innocence carried into adulthood, causes her to fall victim to Erik, who uses his talent for ventriloquism to make her loyal to him. Mme. Valerius is another example of the innocence that surrounds Christine's life. She never questions that the younger woman is doing the right thing even when others doubt her, supplying a level of sweetness and naiveté that reflects on Christine's under-standing of the world.

The romance between Christine and Raoul is particularly untouched by the harsher elements of reality. From their first meeting as children, when Raoul puts his life at risk in service to her as he swims out into the ocean to retrieve her scarf, to their chance meeting years later at the opera house when they recognize each other, they are true to each other. A few times, Raoul questions Christine about her purity, but he always accepts her word that such questions are misguided. Readers believe so firmly in the couple's innocence that, when the narrator has bystanders remark that it is scandalous for them to go into her dressing room together and close the door, it is the bystanders who seem ignorant of the reality of true love.


This book uses several standard horror elements to make the phantom threatening and mysterious. The most obvious of these is the opera house itself, with its high, shadowy ceilings and miles of tunnels beneath. When Raoul and Christine go up to the roof, they are among the swooping gables and heavy statuary that set the ominous mood in other works, such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In its cellars readers are introduced to fantastic sights that are hard to believe: legions of forgotten workers who never see the light of day or swarms of rats that are at the command of the Rat Catcher.

The most distinct horror device is Erik's face. Though he is described as having a skin disease, its manifestation gives him the exact semblance of a skull, so that even as a young man he was able to travel to county fairs and bill himself as the living dead man. His eyes, too, are described as glowing in the dark, like a cat's. These details might be unlikely in the real world, but they are not at all out of place in a horror story.

Topics For Further Study

  • Examine the history of the Paris Commune, which Leroux says lived in the jails upon which the Opera House was built. Find out how much the underground life led in the 1870s corresponds to the underground life that Raoul discovers while going to find the place where the phantom lives.
  • This story centers on the opera company's performance of Faust. Read a version of the Faust story and write a short play in which Erik and Faust meet, telling each other about their common experiences.
  • One of this story's conceits is that, through the use of ventriloquism, Erik is able to make it seem as if his voice is coming out of places that are far from where he is hiding. Prepare a report on ventriloquism: its capabilities, its shortcomings, and its greatest practitioners. In what ways would proficiency in ventriloquism help Erik in pretending to be the Opera ghost?
  • Study another opera house, either in person or on the Internet. Report on what areas behind and under the stage would be handy for this house to harbor its own phantom.



The Phantom of the Opera is told from the point of view of a narrator whose name is never given, who is examining the events of the novel thirty years after the fact. The Preface gives details of his search: how he examined the records of the opera library, interviewed people who had been present at the time of the story (including Little Meg Giry and the Persian, whose name is withheld but who proves to be a major part of the action in the book's final chapters), and examined a skeleton found in the catacombs under the opera house, assuming it to be the remains of the phantom. Throughout the course of the novel, this narrator sometimes makes his presence felt, with statements like "I assume" and "we know now that," but for the most part he stays out of the story and relates the facts as a third person narrator would.

There are several ways in which this narrator gives over the telling of the story to other participants. One way is in quoting songs that were sung at the opera while the story was being lived, giving readers a greater sense of immediacy than they would get from a scholarly recap of the events. The most striking example occurs when he gives the narrative over to the Persian in chapters 22 through 26, using the excuse that these are the exact words that the Persian wrote in his memoir of the events. It is significant that, at the height of this suspenseful story, the narrator changes to one of the two people who is actually involved in the action.

Historical Context

Belle Époque

The long stretch of time between the collapse of the empire of Napoleon III in 1871 and the start of the First World War in 1914 was a relative peaceful and prosperous period for France. Napoleon, like his predecessor Napoleon Bonaparte, had sought to remake Paris on a grand scale, restructuring its centuries-old layout and adding outlying provinces to the city proper. He had also, however, tried to leave his mark as a great military leader, which ended up in his defeat by the Prussians. The fall of the emperor was followed by a four-year period of political anarchy, marked by the uprising known as the Paris Commune (discussed in The Phantom of the Opera for the rebels who hid under the tunnels under the opera house). Stability was established under the Third Republic, which came to power in 1875, the same year that the magnificent opera house designed by Charles Garnier was completed.

During the final decades of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth, Paris saw a burst of technology that was integrated into ordinary daily life with ease. Electric lighting became available in the early 1880s and spread quickly; in the 1890s, automobiles became available; and, just before the turn of the century, the first moving pictures were exhibited. The 1900 Paris Expo, a large party to herald in the twentieth century, hosted nearly fifty-one million visitors: more than the population of the entire country. While France had spent much of the nineteenth century under the rule of Napoleon and his heir, Paris entered the twentieth century as one of the world's great capital cities. This period was known as the Belle Époque, also called the Banquet Years or the Miraculous Years.

Popular Entertainment

When The Phantom of the Opera was published in 1910, opera was still a popular diversion in Paris, but other forms of entertainment were more accessible to the masses. The theater world was all overshadowed by the genius of Sarah Bernhardt, one of France's most popular actresses, who started her career in the 1860s at the Comédie Française, the national theater company. Even more threatening to the high prices and formality of the opera was the ascent of the motion picture. Though Americans usually credit Thomas Edison with inventing movies in 1893, his kinetoscope projector was limited to one viewer at a time in a small booth. The first motion picture theater opened in Paris in 1895, using a process that was developed by two French brothers, Louis and Auguste Luminière. The Luminière method became the standard that was to be used in motion picture projection for decades. When this novel was published, the city of Paris already had over thirty-five movie theaters.

While motion pictures made shows available to the people who could not afford tickets to the opera or even to the theater, there were also a number of low-budget music venues that could be enjoyed for very little money. Paris had a tradition of being an artists' city and in particular a city for starving artists, and these artists frequented music halls and provided the talent for their stages. The majority of Parisians, to say nothing of the rest of the world, had never stepped foot inside of the opera house, and learned of its intriguing design through Gaston Leroux's novel.

Critical Overview

It is unlikely that Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera would be read today if it were not for the ways that other artists have adapted it to visual media. When Leroux's story first appeared as a newspaper serial in 1909, it was popular enough to be carried in papers in France, Great Britain, and the United States, but the subsequent release as a novel was only modestly successful. It was considered just another thrill story by a competent writer who churned out entertainment stories for a living. The book fell out of print quickly. In 1925, however, while looking for a film vehicle to match the success that he had just had with Lon Chaney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, film producer Carl Laemmle purchased the rights to The Phantom of the Opera. The film took great liberties with Leroux's story, but it was a great success, a groundbreaking horror film, and its following continued over the decades and stirred interest in the novel that spawned it.

Modern audiences are familiar with the story of the phantom through the immensely popular stage musical, written by Andrew Lloyd Weber. That play opened in London in October of 1986 and as of 2004 had not yet closed, making it as of that year the second-longest running musical in the history of the theater (after Weber's own Cats).

Compare & Contrast

  • 1880: Transportation within Paris is by horse carriage; for cross-country trips, the locomotive is available.
    1910: In the year following the first flight across the English Channel by Louis Blériot, Parisians realize that the age of aviation has arrived. Automobiles are common on Parisian streets.
    Today: Paris's streets, designed in the 1870s, are choked with automobile traffic. For travel on the continent, the TGV, or bullet train, travels at speeds often exceeding 186 miles per hour.
  • 1880: Paris is the artistic center of the world, home to impressionist painters such as Alfred Sisley, Auguste Renoir, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, and Paul Cézanne.
    1910: Paris is the home of the influential and challenging Cubist artistic movement, promoted by painters such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.
    Today: The best-known Parisian artists, such as Jean-Marc Bustamante and Sophie Calle, are photographers.
  • 1880: The Garnier Opera building is less than five years old and is revered as an architectural triumph.
    1910: At the advent of the age of Modernism, the Garnier Opera building is seen as an ornate and almost gothic structure.
    Today: The Garnier Opera building is considered to be one of Paris's most important cultural landmarks.
  • 1880: Interior light is provided by open gas flames, lanterns, or candles.
    1910: Large gathering places such as the opera are lit with incandescent lighting.
    Today: Lighting of stage productions such as operas has become an art form in and of itself.

One reason that the novel is so seldom discussed on its own terms is that its story is, in the words of Leonard Wolf, who edited a contemporary, annotated edition, a "strange sort of masterpiece." Wolf points out the conventions of gothic fiction, such as the perils faced by the young, beautiful heroine, pursued "from one cold, dark, dank, and macabre place to another by a tall, dark stranger who is infinitely more interesting than the good-looking and (often) wealthy or titled young hero

who rescues her." While many readers have dismissed the book as a hack job, Wolf credits Leroux with weaving "a tapestry of myth that frequently feels both complex and moving."

In his 2002 study titled The Undergrounds of "The Phantom of the Opera": Sublimation and the Gothic in Leroux's Novel and Its Progeny, Jerrold E. Hogle shows that it is in fact possible to give serious critical consideration to the phantom's story. Heavy on psychological and sociological interpretation, Hogle's book observes aspects of the story that have never been noted before. His discussion of the underground catacombs, for example, is common of the tone of the whole book: "As both the principle creditor and himself a debtor in this novel, Leroux's phantom thus occupies yet another symbolic position with many layers, this time in the way the book exposes and disguises the economic roots behind a world of simulation." It is notable that, while taking Leroux's work seriously, still the majority of Hogle's book is concerned with adaptations, from the silent film to the stage musical.


David Kelly

Kelly is an instructor of literature and creative writing at two schools in Illinois. In this essay, Kelly examines the reasons why The Phantom of the Opera has been more successful in film and on stage than the original novel ever was.

It is something of an adage among film critics that great movies can be made from bad novels but that great novels very seldom yield great movies. When screenwriters try to adapt a great novel, they are almost sure to have their work met with the tired old line, "The book was better." Great books are considered great because readers care about them: screen adapters of these books have to know that their every move is being scrutinized, lest they leave out some important, treasured element. At the same time, those adapting weaker sources might feel free to leave out whole plot lines, move the action to another continent, or tack on a happy ending, all without much fuss being raised.

Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera does, in fact, fit this general rule. The book has never been taken very seriously, having been serialized in newspapers, having been bound into novel form in 1910, and then having withered away from the shelves into the dustbin of obscurity. Most readers of its time dismissed it as just another potboiler churned out by a former journalist who was striving to bring in an income by freelancing, willing to write whatever the public would pay to read. It took the 1925 silent film to bring that book back to life. The film starred Lon Chaney, who was one of the most sought-after stars of its day, and it, along with F. W. Murnau's 1922 vampire film Nosferatu, defined the horror film for decades to come. Throughout the decades, there were various remakes of the Chaney film, and then, in 1986, there came the stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber. As of the early 2000s, the musical had broken records for ticket and soundtrack sales and had played all over the world to sellout crowds. Its version of the story, emphasizing the romantic angle and de-emphasizing the macabre, had defined The Phantom of the Opera for late twentieth-century and early twenty-first-century audiences.

Since Leroux's novel had both the horror and the romance that the subsequent adaptations were able to capitalize on so well, it is interesting to ask why they were able to succeed so well with his ideas. The novel is not without its skills, but it also has its weaknesses. The core issue seems to be that its strengths all tend to lend themselves to the visual arts, while its weaknesses all fall in areas where great writing usually shines.

There are many elements of true wit and originality in the novel, twists that show Leroux to be a talented writer, distinguishing him from others who are more willing than able when it comes to producing literature. Of these, one of the strongest elements is the consistency of the narrator's voice. Leroux provides an inquisitive narrator on a quest in this book: he (or, conceivably, she) starts out with the question of whether the legendary opera ghost was real and chases the evidence down to its one deductive conclusion. The triumph of this narrator lies in the lengths that Leroux goes to in order to plausibly give him access to information. The book's Preface gives a list of sources that the narrator is said to have contacted for this inquiry, some thirty years after the fact: names that mean nothing to the reader who has just cracked the book's cover but that establish a sense of honesty. Other narrative techniques include references to printed sources such as police interviews and the journals left by the Persian (whose true name is withheld, simulating a connection to late nineteenth- or early twentieth-century society) and facts about the way the opera house came to be built. As a former journalist, Leroux does a meticulous job of feeding his story through this plausible, objective narrator, one that could possibly have access to the information and, more importantly, the feelings of those who participated, more than a generation earlier. Still, the narrator is the first element that the successful adaptations leave out, and rightfully so.

Although the narrator is skillfully constructed, it turns out to be a hollow accomplishment. The narrator does not really do anything in the novel other than gathering information. He has the same function that a third-person narrator would have, though a third-person narrator could explore people and places without having to explain how the information became available. Though there may have been some benefit to having the story told by a man living in 1910, in order to show the contrast between the modern world and the shadowy world of the past, little is lost in leaving this person out of films and plays. The narrator's main function of shrouding the events with mystery is taken up by light and shadow and set designs.

Which leads to Leroux's other great accomplishment in the novel, his sense of scene. Of the thousands of patrons who sat in the Paris opera house after it was built, he was the one with a sense of mystery who could see the inherent drama that it evoked, presenting culture and refinement built over former prisons. So strong was his sense of scene, in fact, that readers can see the lengths he was willing to go, just to raise the right atmosphere. In Chapter XIII, for instance, he has Christine and Raoul move out of the opera house to talk but places their conversation on the roof, amid a gloomy background of imposing statuary that is just as spooky as anything down below—a setting that makes no sense, given that they are still within range of the phantom's influence. But even that brief change of venue is mild, compared to the way that, in Chapter VI, Leroux has Christine and Raoul travel cross-country to Perros, apparently just to take them to a graveyard at midnight. The book is full of vivid but structurally unnecessary moments, from the appearance of the rat-catcher underground (to tease the audience with an infestation of rats) to the amazing coincidence of Raoul going to Bois de Boulogne on a vague tip, only to see the phantom and Christine drive by in a carriage (apparently added for the visual effect of a carriage at night).

What Do I Read Next?

  • In his entertaining 1993 novel The Canary Trainer, Nicholas Meyer, writing as Sherlock Holmes's confidant Dr. Watson, has Holmes interact with characters from Leroux's novel, as he tries to capture the opera ghost.
  • There are many comparisons to be made between the story of the phantom and Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein, which also deals with an outcast from society. In Shelley's novel, though, the philosophical questions of what it means to be human are much more significant.
  • The costume ball with the mysterious death's head figure in attendance is an almost exact copy of the scene Edgar Allan Poe used in his short story "The Masque of the Red Death." This story is available in most anthologies of Poe's works, including the one published by the Library of America.
  • Readers who enjoy Leroux's style might want to read more of his writings. His 1907 detective novel The Mystery of the Yellow Room, which was one of his most popular works during his lifetime, is available in a 2002 release from Also, a number of his macabre stories were collected in The Gaston Leroux Bedside Companion: Weird Stories by the Author of the "Phantom of the Opera," but as of 2004 this collection was out of print.
  • This novel is closely associated with Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Like Leroux's Erik, Hugo's Quasimodo is a deformed genius who occupies the hidden spaces of a grand Parisian building, pining for the beautiful woman whom he loves. Hugo's novel was available as of 2004 in a Tor Classics edition.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is similar to the tale of the phantom in that it takes place in the late Victorian era and in mostly urban settings, mostly at night.

Though Leroux was brilliant at producing frightening visual effects in this book, his execution was not always so impressive. Readers have difficulty seeing the statue of Apollo's Lyre, the carriage, or the gravestone that Raoul was apparently found spread out on in the morning. One of the most chilling sights to come from the book, the appearance of a masked death-head at a costume ball (which was itself openly appropriated from Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Masque of the Red Death") is glided over in two paragraphs of dense narrative, muting its power and making readers wonder what it was they have just seen and why. This very image plays an impressive role in both the movie and the play, capitalized on by storytellers who understood the value of the scary images that Leroux seems to have conjured up by the dozens without restraint.

As a writer, Leroux was weakest in handling characterization. He just seems to have had no interest in the inner workings of the human beings. The other characters in the novel do not prove to be much more substantial than the narrator. The book's male lead, Raoul, is so lacking in personality that Leroux brings in the Persian at the end to take over the traditional chores of the hero, such as finding and confronting the monster. Christine is a little more complex, but her complexity results from her being tricked by the phantom into associating him with a guardian angel: it is not until the screen and stage adaptations that her dual attraction and revulsion are acknowledged. As for the phantom himself, Erik: in the abstract, he could be considered a complex character, with his hatred for humanity clouded by his love for Christine, his beautifully artistic soul defied by the shadows that he is forced to live in. The problem is that, having established these elements of character, Leroux does not follow through with them. At any given moment he brings Erik's sense of love, anger, or compassion to the fore, depending on whether Leroux wants the action to move toward murder, kidnapping, or, in the end, sudden forgiveness.

The problem is that Leroux's writing is all elements and no details. He is like a land developer who can see a field built up into blocks of houses, but he does not know what particular houses should go where, much less what should go in them. This is why adaptations of his book work better than the book itself. His horror-story elements are visual and, therefore, work more effectively when played out visually, but that is only half of the explanation: his work was so unrefined that anybody who took the time to rework it, to pay closer attention to the implied meaning behind the phantom's mask, the falling chandelier, the rooftop encounter, the caverns of forgotten laborers and the rest would almost have to produce an impressive artistic work. In fact, the characters from The Phantom of the Opera were appropriated by several writers over the course of the twentieth century, who cast them into their own fiction. The fact that the most popular forms of this story have been a movie and a play has something to do with Gaston Leroux's sense of the visual and his sense of the broader movements that make characters, but it has even more to do with the fact that he seems to have left the telling of his story undone.

Source: David Kelly, Critical Essay on The Phantom of the Opera, in Novels for Students, Thomson Gale, 2005.

Contemporary Authors Online

In the following essay, the author discusses the critical reception of Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera and his contribution to the fields of detective and horror fiction.

Several motion picture adaptations (the first in 1925) and stage adaptations have kept French author Gaston Leroux's original novel Le Fantome de l'Opera (The Phantom of the Opera) alive in the minds of readers throughout the world for over eight decades. Published in 1996, The Essential "Phantom of the Opera": The Definitive Annotated Edition of Gaston Leroux's Classic Novel, edited by Leonard Wolf is merely one of numerous, more recent editions published in the United States since the first English translation appeared in 1911. Through the book and its offspring in other media, this story of a disfigured singer who haunts the labyrinthine opera house in Paris and his love for the young and beautiful Christine has become a part of modern culture, a legend that has taken on a life of its own. The Phantom "is a figure of power and poignance, horror and mystery," explained Richard Corliss in Time magazine." He dwells in the fetid cellar of the subconscious; from those depths rises the music of passions we hardly dare attend. He is the Id aching for the Ideal, loathsomeness wanting to be loved, unknown fear reaching up to touch or break our hearts." Corliss added, "He is kin to Pygmalion, Cyrano, Quasimodo, Dracula, the Elephant Man and King Kong—artists isolated in their genius, Beasts pining for a Beauty."

Leroux's classic novel was first serialized in France and Britain before being published in book form. It was based in part on actual events. Leroux had visited the Paris Opera House several times while working as a drama critic and was familiar with its architecture and history. Begun in 1861, the Opera was finished in 1879 and was comprised of seventeen stories with mazes of corridors and stairways, private suites for then-Emperor Napoleon III, stables for horses, dressing rooms for 500 performers, storage cellars for costumes, and an under-ground lake on its lowest level. The atmosphere of the building was made more mysterious by rumors that a ghost or strange being haunted its depths and had been responsible for several unexplained deaths. Leroux worked many of these details into his novel, including how the opera house's main chandelier had fallen upon an audience in 1896.

Influenced by Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame, Leroux created for his book a horribly disfigured central character named Erik. Erik is a wonderful musician with a beautiful voice, but he is so ugly that from birth his mother required him to wear a mask. He builds a home for himself on the underground lake beneath the Opera and prowls its corridors unseen, leaving notes signed "O. G." (for Opera Ghost) instructing the management on how the theater is to be run.

To his underground residence the Phantom brings young Christine Daae, a beautiful under-study he has fallen in love with and whose career he is advancing. But Christine is in love with Raoul, a young nobleman she has known since she was a child, and is terrified of the Ghost. Eventually, however, she begins to understand Erik's longing and comes to pity him. In Leroux's final scenes, writes Drake Douglas in Horror!, "when Erik speaks of the wonder of being looked upon without fear by a beautiful woman, of actually feeling the warmth of a woman's kiss on his horrible face, surely then we cannot feel too much fear and hatred for this monster who had the misfortune to be born with a great heart and a terrible ugliness."

The Phantom of the Opera was not an over-whelmingly successful novel in a critical sense. At the time of its original publication, a contributor to the New York Times Book Review noted it as an interesting "ghost story… but when the phantom ceases to be a phantom, and things begin to be accounted for, one's interest sensibly weakens." Even so, the New York Times Book Review contributor positively remarked on the novel's description of the Opera House and found the book "effective" and stated that "its style is picturesque and vivid." And although at times almost "ridiculous," a Nation reviewer concluded that the story is "ingenious" and "despite the incredibility of the whole situation, M. Leroux succeeds in piquing the reader's curiosity, and… [the novel contains some] 'breathless suspense.'"

Despite the novel's reception among critics, the Phantom's story has transcended its evaluations. Each new adaptation of the book, from the 1925 classic silent movie starring Lon Chaney to the award-winning 1986 musical created by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe, has intrigued the public and lured them back to redis-cover the original novel.

Leroux may forever be remembered as the creator of The Phantom of the Opera, but in his day, he was recognized as an innovative creator of detective and horror fiction. The only child of well-to-do shop owners, he acquired a taste for literature at an early age. Although sent to Paris to study law as a young man, he preferred to spend his time writing stories and verse; his first published work consisted of a sequence of sonnets about Parisian actresses. At the age of twenty-one, he inherited nearly one million francs from his father, but Parisian night life—drinking and gambling—quickly reduced his inheritance. Within six months he was penniless, and turned to his writing as a means of support. He became a court reporter on the staff of L'Echo de Paris, combining his legal training with his writing skills.

Tired of simply reporting court cases, Leroux launched a career as an investigative reporter by trying to solve a case before the verdict came in. "He was convinced the accused man was innocent, and the reason he was being kept under such tight security before his court appearance in the town of Bourges was to protect some incompetent officials," explained Peter Haining in his introduction to the Dorset Press edition of The Phantom of the Opera. Passing himself off as a prison inspector, Leroux obtained access to the prisoner and interviewed him. Haining quoted Leroux from a 1925 interview: "I got my paper to publish a full report which completely exonerated the prisoner—and as a result the Prefect of Police was disgraced and the Prison Director was sent packing! Curiously, it was my newspaper colleagues who were the most annoyed. I had interviewed an accused man in prison before his trial—it was something that had never been heard of before in law reporting!"

This case established Leroux's reputation as a reporter, and led to many other interviews with influential figures, including the Duc d'Orleans, pretender to the throne of France, and the Swedish Antarctic explorer Nils Nordenskjold. It also led to a job with Le Matin, a major daily newspaper, and assignment as a roving reporter. Over the next fifteen years, Leroux became famous for his adventurous reporting from crisis spots throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia. A master of disguise, he covered the Russian Revolution of 1905 and posed as an Arab while reporting on European imperialism in Morocco—an assignment that could have cost him his life.

Because of these escapades, Leroux became known as a reporter "who could get a story out of even the most unlikely situation," wrote Haining. For example, in an attempt to interview British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain during the Boer War, Leroux slipped into the minister's private study without permission. When he was discovered by a secretary and ejected, Leroux composed an article titled "How I Failed to See Chamberlain," which, according to Haining, "delighted French readers and was widely hailed as 'a masterpiece of good humour and wit.'" Eventually, however, Leroux tired of the traveling and hazards that his journalism demanded and turned to writing fiction and plays. Much of his work drew on his experiences as a reporter, and "right from the start," declared Haining, "he proved himself an ingenious storyteller with a flair for pace and excitement."

Leroux's first success as a novelist came with the 1908 publication of The Mystery of the Yellow Room, which introduced his amateur detective hero, Joseph Rouletabille. Like the author himself, Rouletabille is a mentally sharp reporter whose reasoning ability far outpaces that of the police officers he meets. With his assistant Sainclair, Rouletabille solves one of the first "locked-room" mysteries, in which a crime is committed in a place no one could have entered or left. Leroux also wrote mysteries in which the least-likely character is cast as the culprit and is credited with introducing this plot device to the genre.

The Mystery of the Yellow Room was translated into English and established Leroux as a major figure in the field of mystery writing. "The Mystery of the Yellow Room," wrote Howard Haycraft in 1941 in Murder for Pleasure, "is generally recognized, on the strength of its central puzzle, as one of the classic examples of the genre. For sheer plot manipulation and ratiocination—no simpler word will describe the quality of its Gallic logic—it has seldom been surpassed. It remains, after a generation of imitation, the most brilliant of all 'locked room' novels."

The sequel to the The Mystery of the Yellow RoomThe Perfume of the Lady in Black—featured the second appearance of Rouletabille and confirmed his reputation as an amateur sleuth who out-thought professional detectives. Although popular, The Perfume of the Lady in Black did not receive the acclaim that had greeted The Mystery of the Yellow Room. Rupert Ranney wrote in Bookman: "The Perfume of the Lady in Black is no better than its predecessor, and it is no worse, which implies neither high praise nor serious disparagement. The faults and merits of one book are the faults and merits of the other." Other adventures of Rouletabille failed to duplicate the success of the first volume. Leroux later penned another series of detective novels starring a magician named Cheri-Bibi.

The creator of Rouletabille, Cheri-Bibi, and numerous other intriguing characters, Leroux continued to be a prolific writer of fiction until his death in 1927. Although his creation The Phantom of the Opera currently overshadows his other works, Gaston Leroux is still remembered in the fields of detective and horror fiction for his unique contributions to these genres.

Source: Contemporary Authors Online, "Gaston Leroux," in Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2003.

Philip J. Riley

In the following excerpt, Riley examines the historical background which led to the conception and writing of The Phantom of the Opera.

Gaston Leroux is known to the American audience today as the author of The Phantom of the Opera, but in France he is known as one of the most popular and well read mystery writers in the country.

In April of 1907, Leroux had just returned from another exhausting journey to Morocco when the phone rang at 3 a.m. The editor of Le Matin, Maurice Bunau-Varilla, was on the line. He was ordered to take the next train to Toulon, where the largest French battleship had just sustained extensive

damage in an explosion. He looked at Jeanne, at his children, at the warm bed in which he had been peacefully sleeping for the first time in weeks. With a few well chosen words to the editor, Leroux quit—hung up the phone—went back to bed and became a novelist.

He immediately began to write The Mystery of the Yellow Room. The inspiration for the novel he freely admitted, was Edgar Allen Poe's, The Murders in the Rue Morgue (first published in Graham's magazine in April 1841). Poe's story had been written only 12 years after the establishment of the world's first professional police in London. The word "detective" did not exist—at least in English until its use by Poe.

Murders in the Rue Morgue was a new form of fiction, called by Poe himself, "tales of ratiocination". (The only example of any type of deductive reasoning in a fiction work, before that time, was Voltaire's Zadig, published in 1748). Poe invented the gentleman-detective, who acts through his own intellect to solve a crime that has baffled the official police. The story is written in narrative as told by the reporter, and written down by a colleague.

French novels, especially mysteries, were over-burdened with self analyses when Leroux announced to Jeanne that he was going to "Out-Poe-Poe," in writing a "locked room" mystery. He certainly did. It became an overnight sensation and confirmed Leroux's belief in himself. The only concession he had to make was to change the name of his character from the original, Boitabille, to Rouletabille—a name that would make him as famous in France, as Sherlock Holmes made Arthur Conan Doyle in England or C. Auguste Dupin made Poe in America.

After the newspaper serialization of the work, it was published in novel form by Pierre Lafitte—who, through 1924, would eventually publish 26 more volumes written by Leroux.

At some point in 1909, assured of an income, he and Jeanne and son, Miki, and daughter Madeleine (Leroux and Jeanne Cayette were still not married at this time) moved to the French Riviera and set up a home on Mont-Boron, overlooking the Casinos at Nice. It was there that he was to write his most famous novel, The Phantom of the Opera which he dedicated to Joseph, his closest brother.

The Opera Faust did not become the centerpiece of the "Phantom" story by mere chance. Just as Leroux's avant garde use of italics to convey "thoughts" holds far-reaching action together, Eric, the Phantom is always kept in our minds while reading about scenes from the Opera. Eric is Faust turned inside out—or sideways. In Leroux's research, he found that Faust was, at first, all that is admirable and uplifting in a man, and yet his physical appearance was hardly one that would attract a beautiful girl to love him… an old man. He was intelligent, giving and full of love for his fellow man until he made his pact with Satan. Then, through the medium of boredom, the line between good and evil disappeared in the self-serving life in which he had trapped himself through his bargain. He became a master of music, architecture, medicine, but with his soul now owned by Satan, the dark side became the source of his power. Erik, his counterpart, was hideous on the outside. But his mistreatment by man, from childhood, was the cause that turned him away from his God. His intelligence gave him the means to become his own law, living outside acceptable social society. As his soul got blacker and blacker, a beautiful young girl came into his life, and soon, a single act of kindness towards him destroyed the only things that kept his reality intact, the hatred of man; the belief that love did not exist in him; that there was no God and therefore no good in the world.

A theologian of the 17th century recorded meeting the real Faust at a dinner party. Faust arrived attended by two devils, in the form of a dog and a horse. Later in his story he states:

"The wretch came to an end in a terrible manner; for the Devil strangled him."

Whomever he was, the real Faust disappeared in time to be replaced by the legend. The first publishing of the legend came from Spiess Publishers of Frankfurt in 1587. The actual title of the book?—

History of Dr. Joh. Faust, the notorious sorcerer and black-artist: How he bound himself to the Devil for a certain time: What singular adventures befell him therein, what he did and carried on until finally he received his well-deserved pay. Mostly from his own posthumous writings; for all presumptuous, rash and godless men, as a terrible example, abominable instance and well-meant warning, collected and put in print. James, IIII., Submit yourselves therefore to God: resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.

There doesn't seem much reason to read the book once you get past the title, but apparently it was well received, reprinted several times and in every language of Europe.

From this book Christopher Marlowe obtained the material for his play "Dr. Faustus," which appears to have been first performed in London in 1593.

This text of Faust remained the foundation of one of Europe's most popular tales for the next 200 years until the next character in our history appears… Johann Wolfgang Goethe.

Goethe (pronounced Ger-ta) was born on August 28, 1749 at Frankfort-on-the-Main and he died in Weimar, (Saxony) at the age of eighty-two, on March 22, 1832.

At the age of 21, he met a 15 year old girl named Frederike Brion, the daughter of a Lutheran Pastor. Captivated by his good looks and fame as a poet, they soon had a passionate affair. No record has been found of a child born from their affair, but the very next summer Goethe left. Frederike went away for a year to a retreat. Goethe saw her only once more, three years later and even that was just a brief uncomfortable encounter at a dinner. Frederike never married and died at the age of 61.

By the mid-19th Century, Goethe's epic poem "Faust" was a national German treasure, but it would not be a German that would eventually bring "Faust" to the Opera stage.

The Opera Faust, which plays a big part in the novel and the 1925 film, was written by Charles Gounod. When it premiered, Faust was the first no-table success by a French composer in a Paris, which had for 50 years been dominated by foreign composers. The premiere, however, was not at the Paris Opera as we know it today but in a small theater. By the time Faust reached the new Place de l'Opéra in 1875, it would be in its third revision.

While Faust was being fine tuned by Gounod between 1859–1861, one of the greatest structures in the world was being considered—the setting for our story, The Paris Opéra.

Before Gounod had his first version of Faust underway there had been several changes in the Government of France and there had been no less than thirteen different National Opera Houses.

France was now governed by the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon III. Although Napoleon III was responsible for the design for the city of Paris, as it exits today, he was not a popular ruler with the citizens of that time. His plan of large tree-lined boulevards which radiated like the spokes of a wheel from a cultural and governmental center were put into action, along with a modern sewer system, bridges and artificially lighted streets. The results were that the century old slums of Paris were eliminated. Most of the working class lived in those slums. While they were being continually pushed out of the city, they were also drafted into many of the foreign wars of Napoleon III in his search for new sources of wealth in Mexico and the Middle East.

In the early months of 1858, Napoleon III left the palace to attend a performance at the "Opera-house-of-the-day" which was located on the edge of the diminishing slum line. As they neared the theater several bombs exploded around the imperial carriages. The anarchist killed 150 people, but the Emperor and the Empress Eugénie were unharmed. They continued on to the performance where he was hailed for his bravery.

When he arrived back at the Palace after the performance, he summoned the city planner, Baron Haussmann, and told him it was time for a new opera house, one so grand that it would be the envy of the world [and one that would have a fortified side entrance, with plenty of room for security guards—close to the palace.]

It would take two years for the planning board to finally approve the designs of a young architect, Charles Garnier, out of almost 200 submissions.

The Opera House was conceived for not only the stage performances but also state occasions, balls and artistic festivals of all types.

The mechanics of the modern Opera House were not the only phase of creation in which Garnier showed amazing forethought. Knowing that the future of opera would demand more extravagant productions, as technology progressed, he designed a stable for horses in one of the lower basements. A long series of arch-supported ramps gave the stable master easy access. As Garnier and his talented staff were in the excitement of creation, outside world events were to bring frustration and more delays.

Napoleon's expansion program in the Middle East was draining the countries resources. For Garnier, nine years had now gone by and still the Opera House was far from finished. In 1870, the losses caused by the Franco-Prussian war pushed the people to the breaking point. When Napoleon III's army was defeated in the Sudan he lost the support of the upperclass and was exiled. A new republic was declared by the parliament, but this was not enough. Prussia marched into France and encircled the capital, when the new government was unable to pay the war debt caused by Napoleon III. Inside Paris, the working class took the law into their own hands and formed their own army called the Communards, in an attempt to oust the temporary government.

The first place chosen for the headquarters of the Communards was the unfinished Opera House. Built like a fortress and centrally located, it was stored with ammunition, food and wine. The Prussian siege lasted a year and a half. Food began to run out. The animals of Napoleon III's zoo were slaughtered for those willing to pay the price, and for those who could not, there were the cats, dogs and rats of the sewer. Finally, the National Guard was moved into action. Not only would they rid the city of the Communards but they ran out the "New Republic". The Communards were no match for the well armed National Guard and they were soon routed, but not without attempts to destroy the great creations of the past. The Louvre was set on fire as well as the magnificent Hotel de Ville. The Opera House became a prison for the enemies of the people.

France now had its Third Republic and it was to take three more years before construction resumed on the Opera House. First, the sanitation crews had to remove the remains of the slaughtered animals and dead prisoners. The immense basements and lower labyrinths made it impossible to find all of the prisoners and many died and rotted in forgotten dungeons. Rumors began to spread of ghosts of former soldiers and of forgotten prisoners, reduced to animalistic levels from their isolation in the dark cellars for so many years.

Finally in January of 1875, the "Gala Opening" of the Opera was announced. After years of waiting, Garnier was now rushing to meet the deadline. Many areas had not even been painted! The musicians faced a Wagnerian orchestra pit for the first time and almost went on strike. They were used to being seen by the audience along with the action on stage. Being a politically promoted affair, no one dared protest. The new French government wanted to show the rest of the world that Paris had not only changed for the better, but it was again, the center of world arts. Garnier, after all his labor, was given a seat with the public instead of a place of honor.

One of Garnier's admirers was the newspaper journalist, Gaston Leroux, who had settled down to write novels, rather than continue the time-consuming and dangerous life of a reporter. Through one of his many contacts from those press days, he gained permission to explore the depths of the Opera House.

With a few guides, Leroux covered the upper scene docks, admired the beauty and subtle art, the frescos and statues. Then he wished to go into the lower levels, almost 70 feet down into the ground. There was little or no light and few who would even dare glance at the door to the levels below, let alone go through it. Some levels had not been inspected for 25 years.

He remembered the hundreds of prisoners who had died there during the Franco-Prussian war. The maze of labyrinths amazed him and possibly the thought that "the man who designed all of this must be in a madhouse" planted the seed for a fascinating villain. Early notes on the Phantom indicate just that. Leroux imagined a child who had been forgotten when the Commune prisoners were freed. The boy eventually went mad and made the underworld his home. Maybe as an adult he became an architect who purposely designed all types of secret rooms, with the intent of using the old torture chambers on any accidental visitors who stumbled into his hidden rooms.

At various times, his attention was broken by a call from his friend, who was moving on to a new area. When they reached the lower levels, the dampness became more prominent. They came upon the lake, five stories below the opera stage. It was nearly full and could only be viewed from above through barred grills. He was shown the mechanisms by which the lake could be drained and the walls inspected. When this was done, the lofty arches were exposed and the workmen used a small boat to travel from area to area. It was rumored that there was a secret room, now under water, that could only be entered when the lake was drained. It was at this level that a morbid discovery was made. He was about to join his guide, when he stumbled upon the remains and bones of the victims of the torture chambers. His foot kicked a skull as he scrambled to remove himself from this ghastly vision! Once he regained his composure the opera ghost was born. (Fact, or just legend propagated by Leroux's wonderful sense of humor?)

In the eerie underworld of the Opera House, Leroux began to formulate what type of person could survive in such a morbid tomb-like land of shadows. Certainly, a prisoner of this darkness would eventually be driven insane. Years of journalism and practicality imbedded in Leroux, kept him from the consideration of making his Phantom a real monster, (in the manner of Stoker's Dracula). So it would have to be a character within the realms of possibility.

Leroux always kept a large library. Consulting his medical reference books he noted the effects on the human body when deprived of sunlight, clean water and sanitary conditions over a period of years. Leprosy was one disease that came from these conditions, but it usually occurred in tropical areas. Also in 1909, he had obtained copies of recently published papers from London, in which, Dr. Treves' patient Joseph Merrick, known as the Elephant Man, was finally diagnosed as having von Recklinghausen's neurofibromatosis. Although Dr. Treves' own account of Joseph Merrick were not published until 1923, one of the transcripts in Leroux's library told how Merrick cried when a woman visitor politely shook hands with him. The overwhelming emotion taxed his weak heart to the point where he almost had a seizure and died from the joy of the moment. It was the first time that a woman had ever smiled at him and shaken his hand. The horrible deformities of the Elephant Man were too much. Leroux's character had to draft blueprints, draw and be athletic. The hand shaking incident, however, gave him some insight as to how kindness affects one whose life has been littered with abuse and rejection due to his physical appearance.

It was to a visit by an unnamed physician, a guest of Leroux's, that he credits the physical and mental requirements of his mad-genius.

A disease, which is known today as congenital porphyria produced tragic symptoms in its sufferers. The disease itself becomes progressively worsened by exposure to sunlight. In an early German medical Journal supplement called Strahlentherapie, he discovered photographs of the victims, plus descriptions of the symptoms. An excerpt from The Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine #57 published in 1964 provides some insight:

  1. Severe photosensitivity in which a vesicular erytheman is produced by the action of the light.
  2. There is a tendency for the skin lesions to ulcerate, and these ulcers may attack cartilage and bone. Over a period of years, structures such as nose, ears, eyelids, and lips undergo progressive mutilation.
  3. Hypertrichosis of pigmentation may develop.
  4. The teeth may be red or reddish brown due to the deposition of porphyrins.
  5. Nervous manifestations may be referable to any part of the nervous system, and include mental disorders ranging form mild hysteria to manic-depressive psychoses and delirium.
  6. In cases a jaundice produces pale yellowish excoriated skin.

The plausible yet horrible figure of an architect, once a prisoner of the Commune, who had been hired to design and create the underground labyrinths, formed in Leroux's imagination through these medical studies. Much like Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Moriarity, this person's madness would also be his genius. Yet, if he were to contract this nervous disease, his symptoms would be a gradual mental breakdown, whereupon the mechanical training of the mind would remain, while the reasoning would cause whatever was happening at any particular moment to become the total of his reality. His physical characteristics would be, in layman's terms, loss of muscle bulk, which would make him almost skeletal. The jaundice would turn his skin pale yellow. Exposure to sunlight would cause the loss of his ears, nose, lips, eyelids, hair and cause the teeth to turn reddish brown.

That took care of the outer appearance. For the inner workings of Erik, he went back to the original Faust and developed a mind corrupted by evil and lack of discipline. But the lack of sympathy bothered him. Even Faust was redeemed in the legend.

Other pieces of the story were now beginning to fire his imagination. He remembered an accident at the Opera that had occurred in 1896 while he was still a reporter for Le Matin. During the first act of Thétis and Pélée, the cable, holding an 800 pound counterweight that was used for balancing the great chandelier, snapped due to an electrical short and crushed a woman to death. He imagined what would happen if the whole chandelier were to fall.

As the story line became clearer, the idea of an architect did not hold as much romance as that of a musician. What better than to have a mad genius who was not only an architect, but a musician as well; who used the old rumors of the commune ghosts as a means to keep people away from his hidden home. Then came the problem of motive. After taking such great pains to hide from society, what would bring this mad disfigured person up from his dark world?

The French classic Beauty and the Beast provided that answer. Love! Could the unbalanced nature of the Phantom be overcome by the love of a woman? Could his heroine—Beauty—be able to overcome the horrible appearance of the Beast to see the true inner beauty that he possessed?

AND… The object of the Phantom's affections could not be just a member of the ballet troupe or opera chorus. She would have to be a well known and beloved performer. Now… How could he work in the wonderfully dramatic chandelier tragedy?

Going back in his studies of the Opera House history, he found the progression of Faust. He found Mlle Carvalho, upon whom he based his Prima Donna, Carlotta; Carlotta's stranglehold on her husband, the manager of the Opera, plus the record of Carlotta having the understudy fired because her voice was better than her own. He now had his heroine, Christine Daaé, (pronounced Diea) a protégée, who would rise from a mere understudy to the Phantom's personal Prima Donna! AND… If the Opera Company did not comply with his wishes to present her voice to the Paris audience, here was the motive to drop the chandelier!

In staying within his literary history style, he even mentions Mlle Carvalho and his character Carlotta in the same paragraph, with references to the Théâtre Lyrique, where Faust was first performed. In the introductory paragraphs about Christine, he has Gounod, himself, conducting selections as Christine sings.

The gallant soldier Raoul De Chagny [pronounced Rah-ool Dee Shah-n-yay] provided the Phantom with an antagonist. But Raoul alone was not quite strong enough for such a powerful villain. Enter the Persian! With the Persian, a whole chapter of Leroux's past experiences in Morocco became available.

The opening of the mystery needed something special. Borrowing the name of the favorite performer of Méphistophélès for the period, M. Faure, Leroux had satisfied the public's expectations for an "official police Inspector" such as Doyle's Lestrade and for private "detectives" (such as Doyle's, Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allen Poe's, C. Auguste Dupin) who would manage to solve the crime while the police stood by baffled.

Leroux now put himself into the story as the narrator. No longer would this be a mystery, but a report of an actual tragic, real-life occurrence. Inserting his massive file of facts, research and documented material into the plot, he presents it as a journalist would successfully giving the reader the proof that "The Opera Ghost really existed… "

The world respected the factual details of Leroux's newspaper articles. His ability to capture whole battlefield scenes in just a few paragraphs for his newspaper articles, and his vivid memory, worked much to his credibility in presenting his report of the Opera mystery. It was, however, not a "gimmick" that provides the thrills experienced by his fans for over 75 years, but his exceptionally visual style.

Leroux's remarkable ability to paint with words, gives you the feeling that you are standing alone in an empty theater not quite sure which shadow is a deranged maniac and which shadow is just…. .a shadow.

Near the end of 1909 Leroux completed the novel that was to bring him world-wide fame.

Source: Philip J. Riley, "Gaston LeRoux, Faust and the Phantom," in The Making of "The Phantom of the Opera," MagicImage Filmbooks, 1999, pp. 21–29.


Hogle, Jerrold E., The Undergrounds of "The Phantom of the Opera," Palgrave, 2002, p. 117.

Wolf, Leonard, "Introduction," in The Essential "Phantom of the Opera," edited by Leonard Wolf, Plume, 1996, pp. 2–3.

Further Reading

Johnson, James H., Listening in Paris: A Cultural History, University of California Press, 1996.

Focused on the history of silence in the concert hall and opera house, this book gives a good sense of the cultural tendencies of opera goers at the time of the novel.

Perry, George, The Complete "Phantom of the Opera," Henry Holt, 1991.

Though focused on the London musical, this book is filled with information about the novel and about the Paris opera house.

Skinner, Cornelia Otis, Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals, Houghton Mifflin, 1962.

Skinner examines the social life of uppercrust Parisian society during the Belle Époque. These are the people who would have made up the opera audience during the time that this story takes place.

Zizek, Slavoj, "Grimaces of the Real, or When the Phallus Appears," in October, Vol. 58, Fall 1991, p. 46.

This analysis examines the correlation in some folk traditions between the size of a man's nose and his masculinity and the implications of this theory on Erik's physical deformity.

The Phantom of the Opera

views updated May 29 2018


USA, 1925

Director: Rupert Julian

Production: Universal Pictures; black and white, (some sequences filmed in 2-strip Technicolor), 35mm. silent; running time: about 94 minutes; length: 10 reels, 8464 feet. Filmed in Hollywood. Cost: budgeted at $1 million. Released 15 November 1925, premiered 6 September 1925 in New York. Re-released 1930 with some dialogue sequences and songs added.

Presented by: Carl Laemmle; screenplay (adaptation): Raymond Schrock and Elliott J. Clawson, from the novel by Gaston Leroux; titles: Tom Reed; additional direction: Edward Sedgwick; photography: Virgil Miller, Milton Bridenbecker, and Charles Van Enger; editor: Maurice Pivar; production designers: Charles D. Hall, and Ben Carre.

Cast: Lon Chaney (Erik); Mary Philbin (Christine Dace); Norman Kerry (Raoul de Chagny); Snitz Edwards (Florine Papillon); Gibson Gowland (Simon); John Sainpolis (Philippe de Chagny); Virginia Pearson (Carlotta); Arthur Edmond Carew (also Carewe) (Ledoux); Edith Yorke (Madame Valerius); Anton Vaverka (Prompter); Bernard Siegel (Joseph Buguet); Olive Ann Alcorn (La Sorelli); Edward Cecil (Faust); Alexander Bevani (Mephistopheles); John Miljan (Valentin); Grace Marvin (Martha); George Williams (Ricard); Bruce Covington (Moncharmin); Cesare Gravina (Manager); Ward Crane (Count Ruboff); Chester Conklin (Orderly); William Tryoler (Conductor).



Clemens, Carlos, An Illustrated History of the Horror Film, New York, 1967.

Anderson, Robert G., Faces, Forms, Films: The Artistry of Lon Chaney, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1971.

Everson, William K., Classics of the Horror Film, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1974.

Everson, William K., American Silent Film, New York, 1978.

Riley, Philip, editor, MagicImage Filmbooks Presents the Making of the Phantom of the Opera, Absecon, New Jersey, 1994.

Blake, Michael F., A Thousand Faces: Lon Chaney's Unique Artistry in Motion Pictures, Lanham, 1995.

Blake, Michael F., The Films of Lon Chaney, Lanham, 1998.


Hall, Mordaunt, in New York Times, 7 September 1925.

Mitchell, George, "Lon Chaney," in Films in Review (New York), December 1953.

Behlmer, Rudy, in Films in Review (New York), October 1962.

Bodeen, DeWitt, "Lon Chaney: Man of a Thousand Faces," in Focus on Film (London), May-August 1970.

Viviani, C., "Lon Chaney; ou, La Politique de l'acteur," in Positif (Paris), July-August 1978.

Meth, S., "Reflections in a Cinema Eye: Lon Chaney," in Classic Film Collector (Indiana, Pennsylvania), July 1979.

Koszarski, R., "Career in Shadows," in Film History (London), vol. 3, no. 3, 1989.

MacQueen, S., "Phantom of the Opera—Part II," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), October 1989.

Kindblom, M., "I begynnelsen var manniskan tre," in Filmhaftet (Uppsala, Sweden), December 1989.

Turner, George, "The Phantom's Lady Returns," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 71, no. 4, April 1990.

MacQueen, S., "The 1926 Phantom of the Opera," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 70, September 1989.

MacQueen, S., "Phantom of the Opera—Part II," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 70, October 1989.

Pitman, J., "Chaney Phantom of the Opera Tinted and With Music Track, to Join the Current Craze," in Variety (New York), vol. 337, 25/31 October 1989.

Weaver, T., "Silent Horror Classics: The Best of the Big Screen Shockers," in Filmfax (Evanston), no. 25, February/March 1991.

Télérama (Paris), no. 2380, 23 August 1995.

Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 494, September 1995.

Blake, Michael F., "Lon Chaney's Phantom Turns 70," in Filmfax (Evanston), no. 52, September-October 1995.

Blake, Michael F., "Lon Chaney Collection (1920–25)," in Filmfax (Evanston), no. 52, September-October 1995.

Correspondence on the various scores for the film, by Clifford McCarty, in Cue Sheet (Hollywood), vol. 11, no. 4, October 1995.

Giddins, G., "The Mask," in Village Voice (New York), vol. 41, 23 January 1996.

* * *

There have been several versions of The Phantom of the Opera, but none has remained as close to the original novel by Gaston Leroux as does the Lon Chaney film. Admittedly the film stays faithful to the original work sometimes more as a result of what is not shown than what is; for example, whereas later screen versions offer fanciful explanations for the phantom's grotesque appearance, the Chaney feature makes no effort to explain why the phantom is the way he is— by default, presumably going along with Leroux's story that he was "born that way."

Encouraged by the praise and box-office rewards heaped on Chaney's previous Universal feature, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Carl Laemmle budgeted one million dollars for The Phantom of the Opera. Rupert Julian, a long-time Universal contract director who had made a career as an actor portraying Kaiser Wilhelm in various films, was assigned to direct, but he was replaced sometime during the shooting by Edward Sedgwick, a minor comedy director. (Apparently Julian and Chaney did not get along, the result of a disagreement about the phantom's characterization.) Universal promoted the film by using the rather obvious device of permitting no advance photographs of Chaney to be shown, thus assuring an excited and enthusiastic audience for the New York premiere on September 6, 1925. Critical reaction was somewhat mixed, but the feature proved a tremendous success at the box office.

It is perhaps unfortunate that The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera are the most frequently revived and easily accessible of Chaney's silent features, for neither film allows the actor much excuse for dramatics. His make-up, of course, is superb, but here there is no evidence of the kind of emotional range that Chaney displays, for example, in Tell it to the Marines (1927). Also, his supporting players, Mary Philbin and Norman Kerry, are singularly lacking in talent; Philbin, as the opera singer who unmasks the Phantom, is particularly weak.

The star of The Phantom of the Opera is not Chaney, but rather the magnificent sets of Charles D. Hall and Ben Carre, ranging from the awe-inspiring lobby and auditorium of the Paris Opera House to the eerie, subterranean home of the phantom. Equally impressive are the costumes, particularly the "Death" garment worn by Chaney in the Bal Masque sequence. This scene, together with the operatic numbers from Gounod's Faust, were filmed in two-strip Technicolor. The direction is weak, and the film is badly paced for a melodrama, although suspense is allowed to build, the result of Chaney's remaining masked until more than half-way through the film.

For a 1930 reissue of The Phantom, Universal filmed a number of dialogue sequences with Mary Philbin and Norman Kerry, and added a singing voice—not that of Philbin—to the operatic numbers. At that time some ten minutes were also cut from the film.

—Anthony Slide

The Phantom of the Opera

views updated May 21 2018

The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera (1986) is one of the most popular musicals of the late-twentieth century. Andrew Lloyd Webber's haunting musical score includes such classic musical theater songs as "Think of Me," "The Phantom of the Opera," and "Music of the Night." More than a decade after its premiere, the musical continued to play to sellout audiences in both London and New York. Similarly, numerous other productions also played to packed houses worldwide.

Perhaps Lloyd Webber's most famous work, The Phantom of the Opera opened at Her Majesty's Theatre in London (the edifice of which strongly resembles the Paris Opera House) in 1986. Charles Hart was the lyricist, and additional lyrics were provided by Richard Stilgoe. Lloyd Webber and Stilgoe based their libretto on Gaston Leroux's 1911 novel and cast Michael Crawford as the mysterious Phantom, Sarah Brightman as the opera singer Christine Daae, and Steve Barton as Raoul, Christine's suitor. The three singers recreated their roles when the musical opened on Broadway in 1988. Hal Prince's imaginative and impressive staging captivated audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.

The familiar tale of the disfigured, masked Phantom who lives in the lake below the Paris Opera House and is obsessed with the beautiful young soprano Christine Daae and takes her from chorus girl to diva is told in an intensely romantic and operatic style. The Phantom teaches Christine to sing and secures for her the lead role in his opera, Don Juan Triumphant, by terrorizing all who would stand in his way, including Raoul, Christine's true love. At the end, the Phantom kidnaps Christine and when she kisses him without being repulsed by his physical appearance, he disappears and leaves her to be with Raoul.

Among the show's most inspired songs are "Think of Me," "The Phantom of the Opera," "Angel of Music," "All I Ask of You," "The Music of the Night," "Masquerade," "Prima Donna," "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again," and "The Point of No Return." The music is decidedly operatic in style, as befits the story. Rock elements permeate much of the score, whether in a hard style as in the title number or in a gentler vein as in "All I Ask of You." Lloyd Webber recreated the atmosphere of nineteenth-century operatic Paris and made it accessible to audiences of the twentieth century.

Spectacular visual effects fill the show, as in the climatic end of the first act when the chandelier rises above the audience during the overture only to be cut down by the Phantom and plummets to the stage. Other lasting images like the grand staircase filled with chorus members and mannequins in the "Masqerade" number at the beginning of the second act and the ghostly candelabra on the Phantom's lake prove that, in Phantom, the visual is equal to the aural.

The Phantom of the Opera is representative of two dominant trends in the musical of the 1980s and 1990s: the sung-through musical and the mega-musical. The former type is a musical in which spoken dialogue is minimalized and generally replaced by operatic recitative (speech-singing). The second descriptor refers to a show in which sets, costumes, and special effects are as important to the dramatic narrative as are the traditional coupling of music and words. Every aspect of the work is meant to dazzle the audience.

Lloyd Webber's musical is not the only adaptation of Leroux's novel. No less than five film versions of Phantom have been produced. Perhaps the most famous is the first, Lon Chaney's 1925 silent classic. Other musical theater reworkings of the tale include those by Ken Hill (1984) and Mary Yeston (1990).

—William A. Everett

Further Reading:

Everett, William A. "The Mega-Musical as Transcultural Phenomenon." In The New Europe at the Crossroads, edited by Ursula E. Beitter. Baltimore, Peter Lang, 1998.

Perry, George C. The Complete Phantom of the Opera. New York, H. Holt, 1991.

Richmond, Keith. The Musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber. London, Virgin, 1995.

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