With the groundwork laid and the gossip out of the way, at least for now, the music and mystery behind Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera comes into view through the mist.
Sarah Brightman’s role as Christine Daaé is iconic stuff and her vocal prowess really shines as she knocks the lights out of the place on more than one occasion.
Fans of “big notes” and enormous operatic structure will dig Phantom, even if the pop and rock sensibilities somewhat dilute the purity of the production. Lloyd Webber has never shied away from his mainline take on classical forms, though, and the rock swings and pop melodies shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
The Phantom of the Opera features Michael Crawford as the title character and Steve Barton as Raoul.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, it essentially breaks down like this: a defaced musical genius (Crawford) is infatuated with a beautiful opera singer (Brightman) and will stop at nothing to woo her. He sabotages productions, threatens and kills people, and crashes a chandelier in the process – but he’s still seen as a romantic by platoons of fans today.
There is some drama involved with this, as Daaé is reluctant to return the affections of the Phantom (except in the case of Webber’s updated Love Never Dies, where love flows as freely as spring rain). In Gaston Leroux’s book, Daaé resigns herself to Christian duty. In Lloyd Webber’s world, dark eroticism finds the spotlight.
This gives Brightman plenty of opportunities to sing her heart out – and boy, does she! She plays the role of the conflicted singer well, bursting at the seams with confusion and romance. Her crystalline soprano belts through such classic pieces as “The Phantom of the Opera” and “All I Ask of You.”
If there’s a signature moment among a score of many signature moments, it’s to be found in the main theme. Here the Phantom urges her onward and upward to seemingly impossible notes and Brightman, in character, exhausts herself to reach some riveting heights. These moments are still repeated in Brightman’s concerts to this day, usually in the form of a Phantom medley that includes a number of choice portions.
Another captivating moment is found with “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” a beautiful composition that really highlights the subtleties of Brightman’s voice. While the other pieces are notable for exposing the world to her massive range and ability to belt, the intimacy of “Wishing” is, for my money, a richer experience.
The association of Lloyd Webber and Brightman certainly produced some iconic music, but nothing was more monumental then Phantom. This is the sort of material that still resonates to this day, even after countless other singers have taken to the role of Christine Daaé and countless other productions have been made. Many still seek out the original cast recordings – and for good reason. Brightman’s portrayal is second to none.
There is little use doubting the fact that Phantom was generally good for Sarah Brightman, but there is some question as to how good it continues to be. The apparition remains and the Lloyd Webber period serves as a persistent milieu to whatever Brightman produces even now.
Just for fun, here’s the famed music video version of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Brightman sings with Steve Harley in this take: