THE TRUTH ABOUT THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA?

If you’re into watching Cinemas of the West, especially European Cinema, chances are that you’ve come across a scene involving musicals in a theatre or opera house. I have noticed the makers in the west tend to pick  ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ to be shown in musicals scene just as they pick a Shakespeare drama to be shown in a play scene.

Since ” The phantom of the Opera ” re-appeared times and again in the scenes of European Cinema, it grabbed my attention once and I was curious enough to give it a read. What happened after I finished reading the novel is the topic of the content this time. I’ll come back to it later.

It’s a classic fiction written by a journalist turned author, Gaston Leroux. The novel was originally written in French and was titled Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. It was first published as a serialization and later in volume form in March, 1910. In my opinion, it’s not completely fiction yet I’ll agree that it’s a wonderfully created product of a curious mind. Curious and Imaginative mind. 

THE NOVEL

We learn of this story through the narrator’s words. We don’t know who the narrator is but we assume it is the author himself gathering scoop and providing them to us the readers as we unfold the mystery of the opera house along with him.

 The story is about a man named Erik who lived like a shadow in the opera house, often terrorizing people for the sake of it, which earned him a name – The ghost or The Phantom. But the narrator suspected that he wasn’t a ghost and made it clear that he wasn’t from the very beginning.

 The whole plot is a product of various incidents involving Erik and the opera members, including a singer, Christine Daae whom he fancied but soon turned into his obsession. Why Erik lived like a shadow? He had a deformed face that people often described as the Death’s Head. He wore a mask to hide his face but it got revealed to more people than he would have wanted. The fact that Erik wasn’t an ordinary man but a very violent one was made clear to the readers by comparing his disfigured face with that of a human skull with rotten skin and followed by the incident of Joseph Buquet’s death. Buquet was an employee at the opera house who had described the phantom’s appearance to others and was later found dead. You could feel in your bone that it was Erik’s doing.

Erik didn’t get anybody’s affection in his entire life, not even a mother’s love. He ran away from his home and survived doing a lot of odd jobs using his artistic talents. He was an extremely skilled illusionist and architect but he couldn’t secure a job in normal society because of his face. Therefore, he did shady jobs which had him always on the run for his life. He was tired of it and decided to live an ordinary life but that wasn’t possible for him as society wasn’t comfortable with his presence, hurting his sentiments. He then started living like a shadow in the opera house, playing scary pranks on people making them believe he was a ghost. That was his way of staying in touch with society and yet away from the people of the society. Through his antics, he felt his own existence among the people. Everything was okay for him until he met Christine who believed He was the Angel of Music.

He transformed Christine into a singer with extraordinary vocal skills. He got obsessed with her and barred Christine from marrying anyone when he found out she had a romantic interest in Raoul. He said he would not come to give her a music lesson if she marries anyone. Christine didn’t find it odd as she was initially smitten with the idea of the Angel of Music blessing her with his presence and helping her hone the vocal skill. Erik’s loneliness made him take advantage of that and let her believe it so that she keeps coming to him. This continued until Christine found out the truth about him which scared her and made her sick to the stomach.

Christine with Erik and Raoul

 She then decided to get away from his trap and marry Raoul, whom she earlier rejected on Angel’s insistence. Raoul and she planned to get away but she was kidnapped by Erik who, then presented her with two choices – To marry him or to die. Christine decided to marry him but that was a lie she told him because she knew that he was going to blow up the opera house if she didn’t agree to marry. The unexpected end was that Erik came to his sense after a kiss from Christine and decided to let her go and free Raoul and The Persian whom he kept in the torture chamber. The kiss was something he never got from his own parents , thus having more deeper impact on him than it would have on any ordinary soul.

ERIK – NOT JUST A PHANTOM

I loved how the author made Erik become a part of the three worlds  – Heaven, Earth, and Hell.

His deformed face earned him a name – Death’s head and the ghost. His actions, resulting from his unhealthy obsession with Christine was no less than a doings of a monster from  Hell.

His unhealthy attachment toward’s Christine, however frightening that was, stemmed from the fact that she was the only person who kept coming back to him even though she had her own reason for coming, which was not in Erik’s interest. For the first time in his life, he bonded with somebody even though it was not under natural circumstances. He, being a mere man, a human, deprived of his parent’s love and society’s acceptance, naturally started to want more of Christine than just her attention.

His voice was the thing that first attracted Christine’s attention. Initially, Christine hadn’t seen Erik but only heard him and took vocal lessons from him. Christine believed it was The Angel of Music from Heaven, who comes to give her lessons. She believed him to be an angel not just because she was naïve but also because she grew up listening to stories from her beloved father who was no more. Her father told many stories involving the Angel of Music, who was believed to appear in the most unexpected time in people’s lives and blessed them with an extraordinary musical talent. His father promised her to send the angel from heaven after his death.

THE SOURCES OF INSPIRATION

Once I finished the novel, I wasn’t yet done with it. I was curious enough to dig the internet to find something more about this plot but I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe it was my intuition that took me there. I found some pieces of information that could interest you because they served as the inspiration for the plot. This is what I wanted to share.

 I’ll now point out which part of the plot was inspired by which real-life incidents or person.

Underground Lake

The construction of the opera house, Palais Garnier took 15years to be completed. While building the opera house, the workers faced numerous problems but one of the problems persisted for the longest of time; the problem being the groundwater in the basement that was hard to keep away even with the machinery built for it. After a lot of consideration, Charles Garnier, the architect came up with a plan to build an underground cistern over the groundwater to protect the substructure from moisture.

It soon gave rise to the rumor that there was an underground lake beneath the opera house.

This rumor served as the inspiration for ” Phantom’s hidden lair ” which was said to be near the underground lake. He lived there and also kept a torture chamber made with multiple mirrors.

This kept reminding me of the underground scene at the end of Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets.

The Fall Of The Chandelier

There was another incident that took place at the Paris Opera House on 20th May, 1896 when one of the counterweights of the chandelier weighing 800kg fell to the ground, killing a concierge.

This incident inspired the author to come up with the chapter that involved the falling of a chandelier. There was a point in the story where Erik sent letters; blackmailing the new opera managers-duo Moncharmin and Richard with several demands. He instructed them to pay him twenty-thousand francs per month and that the Box Five be reserved for him at all times. He also ordered them to replace the opera singer, Carlota with the new singer, Christine. He also stated that they should reinstate back the former box attendant, Madame Giry who attended to the phantom’s needs now and then in exchange for a few francs. They had sacked Madame Giry because they thought her to be insane as she claimed to have served to ‘’ the ghost “. He threatened to curse the performance if his demands are not respected.

The opera managers laughed at the demands and considered it a joke. They didn’t agree to any demands.

On the night of the performance, Carlota’s voice started to croak, making the opera managers anxious because she was too perfect a singer to croak like that in the middle of a performance. Just then, they heard a voice whispering that the chandelier was about to fall. Within a second, they looked up as the chandelier fell to the ground, killing a woman. Much to their horror, she turned out to be the same woman who was supposed to be Madame Giry’s replacement.

Christine Daae

The real-life Christine Daae

There was a singer by the name of Christina Nilsson who lived during the time author was writing the novel. She was a Swedish soprano who often signed her first name as Christine. She later married Angel Ramon Maria Vallejo y Miranda, Count de Casa Miranda. She participated in the Metropolitan Opera’s inaugural performance in Charles Gaunod’s Faust, a popular opera in five acts.

Just like Christina, the character Christine Daae was also a soprano of Swedish origin. She was in love with Viscount Raoul De Chagny, a member of one of the noblest families in France. She also performed as Marguerite in Faust.

Few more pieces of information seemed to have inspired the author to cook up this story. I have chosen not to write them here as those have not been proved. Some of them remained a rumor, rather a mystery, till now.

The romance part of the novel itself seemed to be The Beauty and The Beast themed. Just that The Beast was not as ill-fated as Erik.

Once you have read it, you would know that Leroux was a very perceptive man with a great sense of aesthetic.

TRUTH OR NOT?

The truth about The Phantom Of The Opera is that it is not a true story although the author was said to have claimed that it was a true story. Personally, I think it’s not completely fiction. It’s a mix of both – fiction and non-fiction. He may have found inspirations from the real-life incidents mentioned and maybe a few unmentioned; used them as the backdrop of the romantic novel. None of the real-life incidents were connected to each other.

 The author was an investigative journalist before becoming an author. That’s partly why it felt like a detective story told from the perspective of a Truth Seeker.