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  • A Note from the Guest Editor
  • Cormac Newark

What has the Phantom got to do with opera? Music(al) theater sectarians of all denominations might dismiss the very question, but for the opera studies community, at least, it is possible to imagine interesting potential answers. Some are historical, some technical, and some to do with medium and genre. Others are economic, invoking different commercial models and complex arguments surrounding public subsidy. Still others raise, in their turn, further questions about the historical and contemporary identities of theatrical institutions and the productions they mount, even the extent to which particular works and productions may become institutions themselves. All, I suggest, are in one way or another related to opera reception at a particular time in the late nineteenth century: of one work in particular, Gounod's Faust, but even more to the development of a set of popular ideas about opera and operagoing.

Gaston Leroux's serialized novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, set in and around the Palais Garnier, apparently in 1881, certainly explores those ideas in a uniquely productive way.1 As many (but perhaps not all) readers will recall, it tells the story of the debut in a principal role of Christine Daaé, a young Swedish soprano who is promoted when the Spanish prima donna, Carlotta, is indisposed.2 In the course of a gala performance in honor of the outgoing Directors of the Opéra, she is a great success in extracts of works by Gounod, above all Faust, so much so that she is fêted in reviews as "the new Marguerite."3 Among the audience that evening is Vicomte Raoul de Chagny, who has recognized her as the same Christine he played with as a child in Brittany; his tender feelings for her having intensified, he takes the opportunity of her success to re-introduce himself to her, but is disturbed to overhear her speaking to a man privately in her dressing-room. The positive mood of the evening is further marred by the discovery of the hanged body of the Chief Machinist in the third basement, and by suspicion that his death was at the hands of a figure of institutional superstition, the Phantom. The new Directors are shown the demands that this individual has added to the Cahier des charges, the stipulations of the state regarding management of the Opéra: a monthly payment and exclusive use of Box no. 5. They dismiss them, as they do subsequently a written request, signed by the Phantom himself, that Christine be cast as Marguerite in a full performance of Faust. When Carlotta is given the role instead, a loud croak appears to issue from [End Page 113] her mouth at a climactic moment of the act 3 duet, and then, in the middle of the ensuing consternation, the great chandelier falls into the auditorium, killing a member of the audience. Christine is taken down into the depths of the Opéra by a masked figure whom she recognizes as the physical embodiment of the "Angel of Music," the voice that her father promised her as a child, and that has been speaking to her and coaching her for some time. Neither an angel nor a Phantom, he is Erik, a mysterious singer, musician, and composer who wears a mask and lives by an underground lake beneath the Palais Garnier. He insists that she will remain with him for a while, so as to learn not to fear him, and that she will never see his face. But very soon she tears off the mask to reveal hideous disfigurement. Furious, Erik vows to keep her with him forever, but eventually allows her to return to ground level, and even meet Raoul, on condition she goes back down to him afterward. Brief rendezvous at the Opéra masked ball and on its roof are enough for her to explain everything to Raoul and to arrange to escape, but she is abducted by Erik during the emotional final scene of what she plans will be her last performance, once again of Faust. The two are pursued and, after threatening to blow up the Opéra unless...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1476-2870
Print ISSN
0736-0053
Pages
pp. 113-125
Launched on MUSE
2019-02-09
Open Access
No
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