If there ever is a formative point in the career of Sarah Brightman, it comes in the form of The Phantom of the Opera. The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is of course based on the French novel of the same name by Gaston Leroux. Lloyd Webber’s production is considered one of the most successful musicals of all time, with a box office take of around $5.6 billion to date.
It is also considered the highest-grossing entertainment event of all time.
The germ for Phantom came about after Lloyd Webber finished Cats and Song and Dance, both of which also featured our heroine. He wanted to “do something romantic,” so Leroux’s novel came to the fore and development commenced.
Lloyd Webber’s version of Phantom wasn’t the first musical based on Leroux’s novel. A 1976 musical by Ken Hill first brought the tale to life. Lloyd Webber apparently saw Hill’s version along with producer Cameron Mackintosh. The plan was to initially work with Hill on a bigger, broader version of Phantom but Lloyd Webber went his own way in the end.
Much has been made of the relationship between Lloyd Webber and Brightman. The British tabloids were especially merciless and there is no shortage of articles about the subject, with most of them bemoaning Brightman as some sort of squirrelly trespasser.
Placed as she was in the lead role of Christine Daaé, she was branded as having only gotten the honour due to her station in life with the creator of the production. That implication dogs her to this very day.
The spectre of Phantom lingers for Brightman, with Lloyd Webber credited as being the “man behind her success” in more than one United Kingdom crapsheet.
Lloyd Webber has confirmed in numerous interviews that he wrote the part of Daaé for Brightman, with some publications and/or rumours going so far as to say that it was a “gift.” Regardless of how it came to be, it’s clear that the consensus is that Phantom opened some doors for the top-selling soprano that may or may not have opened on their own.
There is some chatter and gossip about Brightman’s having missed the first preview of Phantom and having had some trouble getting on Broadway, all of which can be explored elsewhere online in greater detail than I care to get into.
In a second (and possibly third) part about Phantom, I’ll go into more detail about the performance itself and so on. The footing is important, however, to contextualize the significance of her performance, the gravity it carries to this day in nearly every concert performance she makes and the subsequent shadow of Lloyd Webber over nearly everything she touches – in Britain and elsewhere.