The Phantom of the Opera is the stuff of musical theater legend. Based on a novel by Gaston Leroux and brought to the stage by Andrew Lloyd Webber, it’s the longest-running show on Broadway by a hefty margin and the second longest-running musical on the West End behind only Les Miserables. This week the veritable phenomenon turns 30 – that’s 30 years of soprano arias, 30 years of chandelier-crashing, and 30 years of mask-wearing, candelabra-wielding drama.
Despite the fact that it’s a smash hit, the characters that populate The Phantom of the Opera make consistently terrible life choices (except that velvet cloak Christine wears in “All I Ask of You” — that gets an A+). Christine jumps from one bad decision to the next, leading herself, her friends/co-workers, and her stalker on a path to tragedy. Yeah, yeah, I hear you — but Christine is there to teach the Phantom about compassion, kindness, and love. A) Not her job. B) This could have all been avoided.
So, instead of paying attention to the opulent sets and earworm-filled score that changed the face of musical theatre forever (up to you whether that’s a good or bad thing), I find myself thinking about all the things I personally would have done differently had I been faced with Phantom‘s particular narrative situation.
1. Treat Carlotta with the respect she deserves
Carlotta is a diva with a capital “D.” There is literally a song about her called “Prima Donna.” But as Beyoncé taught us all, a diva is a female version of a hustler, and as such, Carlotta deserves more respect. Is she over-the-top with her demands at times and does she express her feelings in a less-than-kind manner? Sure. But think about how you would feel if a set piece almost fell on your head and killed you at your place of work! Or if the career that you had worked so hard for was being threatened by an upstart chorus girl you’d never heard of before! Phantom is Christine’s story, and no one faults her for leaping at her chance for success, but everyone could do with being a little more understanding of Carlotta’s situation. Being replaced by a younger model is every aging artistic woman’s worst nightmare and Carlotta is living it; we can cut her some slack for not handling it well. The characters either insult her or make attempts at appeasement, but no one really takes the time to understand where she’s coming from or note that her concerns are valid. Everyone would’ve made things much easier for all parties concerned if they did a little less thinking of me and a little more thinking of others.
2. Talk to Madame Giry earlier
The key to unmasking any villain/anti-hero is to figure out what they really want via their tortured, sad backstory; unless they are Heath Ledger’s Joker, they’re usually lashing out at the world for a very particular reason. In the Phantom’s case, he acts like a monster because he was only ever treated as such. Giry knows his entire backstory — his pitiful days as a sideshow attraction at a traveling fair and his background as a scholar, inventor, composer, and more. Since Giry is the first one to bring Christine to the attention of the opera managers, it’s not unreasonable to assume she knows about Christine’s secret voice lessons with “the angel of music.” And yet, Raoul doesn’t ask Madame Giry about any of this until the second act — that’s months into this process! From the moment she seemed in the know (and what ballet mistress worth her salt is not?), everyone at the opera should’ve been asking her for more information. And she should’ve been willing to provide it! Madame Giry – your withholding crucial information literally caused people to die, so I join the Phantom in asking, “Why so silent?”
3. Stranger Danger
Ok, I know Christine is an orphan and so she maybe didn’t have great parental guidance on these things. But you can bet if a disembodied voice wanted to give me singing lessons, I would have a lot of questions. Number one being who are you and why won’t you show yourself to me? Maybe people in the 19th century are just more chill about the whole ghost thing, but it’s hard to understand why Christine went along with some shadowy voice offering to teach her to sing without at least raising an eyebrow. Then, once she does that and still knows nothing about him beyond his velvety voice and apt teaching skills, she follows him through a mirror portal into a boat and an underground lair! Girl, please exercise more caution! What if he just straight-up murdered you down there and no one ever found your body?!
If I were Christine, I would not follow a masked dude in a cape no questions asked. I would not go with a guy I barely knew alone on a boat in general (every true-crime program ever has taught me this is a surefire path to being killed), but Christine just makes so many questionable decisions here — why? Because he sings well? Do not be fooled by his beautiful voice, Christine. I know popular culture has conditioned us to believe that men who are obsessed with us are brooding and romantic, but they’re really, really not. There are so many red flags in this situation: he refuses to tell you his name and just calls himself the “angel of music” (hard swipe left), he sings to you in your sleep and comes to you in your dreams, he wears a mask, he wears a CAPE — why do none of these things give you pause, Christine?! And Meg, you’re Christine’s friend — why didn’t you have her back and point out that maybe this was weird and she should proceed with caution?
4. Re-think Raoul
Don’t get me wrong, Raoul gives good 19th century hottie, with his ribbon-tied ponytail and well-cut breeches and tailcoat, but he and Christine make some bone-headed decisions together. If you know a crazy stalker is jealous of your relationship, maybe don’t flaunt it around the place he lives. “All I Ask of You” should happen in the safety of their Parisian townhouse or in a tavern down the street, at the very least; pledging your undying love to each other in song on the roof is just asking for the Phantom to see you and vow revenge. It’d be like if Michael Douglas’ character in Fatal Attraction chose to have a make-out sesh with his wife in Glenn Close’s character’s apartment; it’s just unfathomably stupid. Also, if you’re going to do a secret engagement, make it a real secret — don’t wear an engagement ring around your neck for all to see. Just ’cause it’s not on your finger, doesn’t mean we don’t all know you’re being coy about it. Either it’s a secret or it’s not; don’t be cute. Lastly, Christine, I know you are emotionally worn out by all this toxic masculinity in your life. I get it. We’ve all been there. But it’s totally reasonable that you do not want to be the bait in Raoul’s trap for the Phantom — stick to your guns on that one. There would’ve been many better ways to resolve this than a honey-pot opera production that results in more death and an angry mob. Just think things through a little more, Christine. That’s all I ask of you.
5. Hire a better stage manager
How on earth did the Phantom manage to murder the leading man of the opera, sneak into his costumes, and slip undetected onto the stage in the role? Yes, he’s very stealthy and seemingly has some type of magical powers, but the opera house really needed a better stage manager if he could do all that unnoticed backstage. Under no circumstances should he have been able to get far enough where Christine was the one realizing she was singing with the Phantom and not Piangi ONSTAGE. Someone was majorly asleep at the wheel. And while “Don Juan” was always staged as an intentional trap for the Phantom, Christine proves she is super unprofessional by unmasking him in the middle of the show. Wait until you’re backstage, girl. Whatever happened to “the show must go on”? You are past the point of no return, so just keep going.