Today, I’ll be interrupting the recent Christmas cheer here on the blog to discuss one of the greatest influences in my life.
I know that’s a pretty bold and serious statement to make, but I think it’s definitely true. The piece of pop culture that I’m about to talk about has been a significant part of my life for longer than anything else. Yes, I fell in love with Jane Eyre as soon as I encountered it, but I did not meet that incredible novel until I was in my last year of high school. Of course, I’ve always adored Beauty and the Beast, but my obsession with Disney comes and goes, and I feel like my child-self on certain days more than on others. But, my passion for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Phantom of the Opera knows no bounds and is constant and fervent. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about this play and have a piece of its music playing on repeat in my mind.
My obsession began when I was just a little girl, probably around the same age Christine Daaé was when her father first introduced her to the Angel of Music. My grandfather (most definitely not my father who basically hates musicals of any kind) decided to bring me to the production of POTO in Toronto. What possessed him to bring someone so young (I can never seem to remember my exact age when I saw it for the first time, but I want to say that I was somewhere between 8 and 10 years old) to a play of that genre, I will never know…but I will forever be grateful. From the moment I heard the opening piece of music, I was totally taken and captured. I was, quite frankly, in love with all of it…the story, the orchestrations, the lyrics, the beautiful sets and costumes…the whole thing left me intoxicated and forever changed.
And since that first performance, I have thought of the play and the story at least once a day. The music became a source of comfort and solace to me – in my high school years, when I was plagued by homework and when I was upset or confused about the guy I had a crush on or an altercation with my friends, I would turn on the first version of the soundtrack I ever purchased (or rather, my wonderful grandfather purchased for me), and lose myself in Colm Wilkinson’s gorgeous and moving rendition of the Phantom. As I entered university, I had the chance to see the 25th anniversary performance of the play at the Royal Albert Hall from my local movie theatre (another National Theatre Live performance), and I immediately grew to love Sierra Boggess as the innocent but strong Christine and Ramin Karimloo as an attractive and tormented Phantom. I remember watching at least one clip from this performance every evening that I was in my final year of university – after spending long and grueling days studying, I would wind down and get ready for bed with Boggess and Karimloo, who had quickly become my favourite actors to portray two of my dearest friends.
I was also equally obsessed with finding ways to see the play. In Toronto, we don’t have the Phantom running all the time, like they do in New York or London, and that’s something that I’ve never been able to fully accept. It is probably better for my wallet because, realistically, if POTO was constantly playing in Toronto, I’d be going to see it at least once a month. But, I’ve had to content myself with seeing it every time it returns to Toronto, and I even made sure to see it on Broadway when I made a trip to New York in my third year of university.
The strangest thing about my obsession is probably the fact that I can’t pinpoint why exactly I love this musical more than any other. When I was younger, in elementary and high school mostly, I desperately wanted to be a musical theatre actress. I took drama and vocal lessons and I envisioned this whole future for myself, playing all the roles I adored and had memorized all the words for. I dreamed of being Eliza Doolittle and Eponine and Elphaba, but I knew that all of these desires stemmed from my urgent wish to portray Christine Daaé. I knew all the words she sang and spoke in POTO by heart (I still do!), and I just wanted to wear her costumes more than anything! I held onto this dream from the first time I saw the play until grade 10, when I realized that my voice was okay (that’s probably generous actually), but not anywhere near good enough to stand out at an audition. My passion probably wouldn’t be enough to land me a role with such substantial technical requirements. And, to be honest, it broke my heart a little that I would never be able to fulfill my dream…and it breaks my heart a tiny bit more every time I see the play and watch someone else perform the role that I’ve always coveted. But, the point is, the narrative I constructed of my future was shaped for such a long time by The Phantom of the Opera, and honestly, I think it still is…
…because, if I have to be really critical of the whole situation, I think that quite possibly I was meant to love The Phantom of the Opera because I was meant to study and become passionate about the French language. Not long after I saw the play originally, I discovered that it was based on a French novel by Gaston Leroux. Now, naturally, at the time I wasn’t old enough to read the novel in the original French because I only had a few years of French class under my belt. But I eagerly read a translated version and I absolutely adored it! Something about the French culture just absolutely spoke to me and gave me chills, and I became so interested in the Opéra Garnier and in the culture of the 19th century in France. When I reached my grade 11 French class (because, obviously, I couldn’t give up studying French if it was Christine Daaé’s language), I got the opportunity to read Leroux’s original French novel for the first time, and I loved it even more. The language was beautiful, eloquent, and just as passionate as the subject matter. I knew that I had found my niche, the language and culture that I wanted to study and make a part of my life.
And, I have! I use French on a daily basis now, and I am always beyond proud that I am able to speak quite fluently and with confidence. I truly believe that I owe at least part of this to my exposure to French culture at such a young age. And, isn’t it a coincidence that Leroux’s novel takes place in the 19th century in France? Isn’t that startlingly similar to the 19th century, or Victorian era, in England that I devoted the English half of my brain to studying? So yes, I would say that POTO opened my eyes to a new language and a new time period, both of which have become fundamental aspects of the person I am and will always be.
Now, you may be wondering, why would I bring all of this up right now on the blog? Well, the answer is simple: TOMORROW I will be seeing The Phantom of the Opera in Toronto, for probably the millionth time! Yes, that’s right, the play has returned to my hometown, and I have tickets…and yes, you guessed it, I’ll be going with my dear grandfather, the man who gave me this gift of music from the start. I cannot wait, and if you’ve been following me on Twitter, you’ll notice that I’ve been quoting lyrics from the play all week…lyrics that I am able to document from memory, by heart.
Obviously, a full review of this recent production will appear on the blog on Sunday. But, to leave you all now, I’ll share one final anecdote. Two summers ago, you’ll all remember that I took a trip to Europe with my friend SN. Arguably the most important and exciting stop on our trip was Paris, the city I had longed to visit since I was a child. You’ve probably guessed by now, but my main priority in going to Paris was to visit the Opéra Garnier, to see that beautiful building that inspired my favourite novel and play, that location where my dear Phantom (known as Erik in literary circles) was supposed to have lived. My expectations were SO HIGH, dear readers – I had an image in my mind of how that opera house had to look, and I so did not want it to be destroyed. More than anything, I needed to see the famous chandelier, hanging right above the stage, and I wanted it to be everything I had imagined.
And oh, it was! It was MORE than I imagined – the opera house was absolutely perfect, right down to the red velvet seats, the flickering lights, the dark passageways. It truly was like stepping into one of my favourite works of fiction, and I never wanted to leave. I got to see the inside of the Opéra Garnier, the outside in daylight and at nighttime…and I got to visit with my beloved chandelier, which looked absolutely, 100% exactly the way it looked every time I saw the play adaptation! I was amazed, mesmerized, shocked to find that everything was just how I wanted it to be! I’m surprised SN was able to drag me out of there…I could spend my whole life in that one building and be perfectly content!
I hope that wasn’t too much gushing for you all on a Friday…but, after all, what is this blog for but to gush and rave and rant with intense emotion and feeling?!
Talk to you all again on Sunday,
Girl with a Green Heart