Sorry for the crickets around here recently, everyone! I’ve been super busy over the past few weeks with starting a new dream job, starting to read a giant series, and planning and actually going on my belated honeymoon (!!!). All … Continue reading
All signs led to him.
“I was immensely interested by this story of the Persian. I wanted, if there were still time, to find this valuable and eccentric witness. My luck began to improve and I discovered him in his little flat in the Rue de Rivoli….I also went into the past history of the Persian and found that he was an upright man, incapable of inventing a story that might have defeated the ends of justice.”
~ The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux
Long before I read a single Victorian novel, I was obsessed with a different story. The musical The Phantom of the Opera was my absolute favourite story from the moment my grandfather first took me to see it when I was in elementary school. Something about the heartbreaking love story (which is so similar to my favourite Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast, in many ways) touched me profoundly, and my passion for the music, characters and eventually the original French text of Le Fantôme de l’Opéra has been ingrained on my heart for what feels like my entire life. I sincerely believe in the power of music on the human soul, and the soundtrack to The Phantom of the Opera has very much been the soundtrack to my life – it is the music I instantly turn to when I am stressed, the opening notes from The Point of No Return are my alarm clock tone, and I have derived infinite pleasure from seeing the musical on more than half a dozen occasions, in many different cities around the world.
Years later, when I started studying the French language, I picked up Gaston Leroux’s novel and flew through it. This was a turning point for me, when I realized that I did in fact understand French…and that I absolutely adored the language. I would not be even close to where I am today, in terms of my education and my career, if I didn’t speak French, and I credit my desire to pursue the language all throughout my schooling to my first experience of reading and loving Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. The text branded itself on my heart alongside Andrew Lloyd Weber’s gorgeous music.
I remember distinctly when I was in third year university and stressed out of my mind studying for my French exams (ironically). That was the year that the 25th anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera was performed at the Royal Albert Hall (again, ironic, considering that the venue is named after one Prince Albert of England), and lucky for me, it was broadcast by Cineplex at a theatre only 10 minutes away from my home. I bought tickets as soon as I learned they were on sale, and since I was single at the time, I dragged my mom with me to the theatre. I was truly and utterly blown away by the production, and I became attached to the portrayal of the characters by Sierra Boggess, Hadley Fraser and most particularly Ramin Karimloo. Karimloo performed as The Phantom, and although I will always be loyal to my first Phantom, Colm Wilkinson, Karimloo totally blew me out of the water with his incredible voice and tortured portrayal of one of my favourite characters. I was obsessed, and I went home and Googled him immediately, purchasing as many of his CDs as I could. I learned that Karimloo was Iranian born and had moved to Toronto when he was a child. He grew up in Toronto, where he first saw The Phantom of the Opera, and because of Colm Wilkinson, decided to pursue acting and singing. I didn’t know much about Iran, but somewhere in my searching I read that Iranians are often referred to as Persian…whatever that meant. It certainly wasn’t relevant to me at the time.
Flash forward to just over a year later, when a bookish girl who believed in nothing more than True Love sat down across from a kind, gentle, loving boy. He asked for her phone number, after only moments of speaking to her, and the rest, as they say, is history. In an attempt to get to know this new guy who had entered my life and who seemed to be taken with me, I started texting my now fiancé before our first date, asking him some key facts about himself. One of these questions was his nationality, to which he replied Persian.
Persian… Persian… I scratched my head at that one and asked my mom where exactly Persia was on the map. Turns out, it isn’t on there anymore and my mom (who is Lebanese) explained that Persian people hailed from Iran. Then, it hit me…Ramin! He was Persian! Well, if that sexy, brilliant singer was Persian, then I was certainly planning to give this new guy a chance. I went on my first date with SS with an open mind and heart. (Imagine my disappointment, though, when I learned early on that he couldn’t sing. Haha!)
It wouldn’t be until years later, when I was studying the text of Le Fantôme de l’Opéra again that it all came back in a flash. The Persian…arguably the most influential and significant character in Leroux’s novel. He is written out of the musical adaptation for reasons of keeping the plot concise, I can only assume, but he is the character that is responsible for most if not all of the action in the novel. He is the one who guides Raoul down to the Phantom’s lair to save Christine. He is an intimate friend of Erik, the Phantom. And, he is only ever referred to as The Persian. How could I forget this character? And if the text of this novel was stamped on my heart…then perhaps a Persian man was there too, long before I ever met my very own Persian man in real-life.
References to Persian rugs and artifacts abound in Victorian literature too. They’re seriously everywhere. Was I perhaps, then, being led toward SS throughout my entire life?
It’s funny how Fate works. I remember vividly that in high school, I was constantly looking for signs from the universe that my crush was my future husband. If his name was whispered in my vicinity, or I saw an object we had talked about or that was somehow associated with him, I took it as this notice from Fate that yes, in fact we would end up together. But, needless to say, we didn’t, and in the years before I met SS, I often wondered what the point of all those signs was. Now, I realize, I was looking at the wrong signs; I was being distracted, led away from realizing that a Persian man had always played a role in my life, from childhood, and that one Persian man in particular would become the love and light of my life.
There are tricky and problematic things about Iran, no question…but now that I know a thing or two about Persian people and their culture, I can say that they are warm and genuine, caring and good, and I am very lucky to have a number of them in my life. Ramin, of course, with his voice that soothes me when I’m stressed. And, my fiancé especially, whose very presence in my life is something I consider a real miracle.
Janille N G
Girl with a Green Heart
“Night Triumphant – and the Stars Eternal.” ~ A Court of Wings and Ruin Sometimes you get so obsessed with a book that it starts to slowly take over aspects of your entire life. Welcome to my world. These obsessions … Continue reading
“…no thoughts within her head, but thoughts of joy! No dreams within her heart but dreams of love!” – The Phantom of the Opera
In most relationships, there’s always that tricky moment when you have to introduce your new love to your first (and usually former) love. This is exactly what I had to do yesterday. In my case, however, it wasn’t a situation where I wanted my current boyfriend, SS, to hate my first love and feel competitive. On the contrary, I still love my first love too, and so I desperately wanted them to get along and learn to love each other.
If you read Friday’s blog post, you’ll know what I’m talking about – my first love, the love I developed from childhood and have held onto for so many years, is not another person, but rather the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Phantom of the Opera. In Friday’s blog post, I detailed how truly important and formative the musical was for me, and how I continue to give it an extremely important place in my green heart.
So, naturally, when I brought SS with me yesterday to see the play, I knew that it was his first time ever encountering the story, the music, the characters, all of it, and I so badly wanted him to love it, to see in it exactly what I saw when I was a child. SS and I have similar taste in most things (except for graphic novels and Star Wars, really), so I was quite confident that he would find the play very interesting and intriguing. The problem was that I myself hadn’t seen the new production of POTO, complete with new and updated set designs, and I had no idea how the actors would portray my favourite roles…and, perhaps more importantly, if their voices would be adequate to make the music sound as perfect as I know it to be.
I’m happy to say that both SS and I were truly impressed by the whole production, and SS has been eagerly asking me questions about the story and expressing interest in seeing the musical again soon! 😀 YAY!
Let me start by saying that the new set was absolutely, beyond words INCREDIBLE! It was so unbelievably intricate, with this sort of spinning design that allowed for multiple different sets to be hidden all within the one stage. The set designers expertly recreated so many different rooms of my beloved Opéra Garnier: the Phantom’s lair was dark and sinister, but also full of candles, and luxurious burgundy and black fabrics, especially fitting to a Parisian style; the manager’s office was richly upholstered with gold and red hues; the roof of the opera house was complete with gold statues and even seemed to be delicately accented with a bit of snow. My favourite set had to be the one used during the Masquerade scene: the entire set was transformed into a room of mirrors, very similar to the one that can actually be found in the Opéra Garnier. There were golden statues all around, which reflected brilliantly in the mirrors, and it really brought me back to my time at the Opéra Garnier. I was so ridiculously impressed by how everything moved and operated to allow the actors to move effortlessly between the different parts of the set, and to allow my friend the Phantom to play tricks from above and below and all around.
So, the visual aspect of the play was a HUGE hit, especially with SS who is so interested in set design and has a very artistic nature. The chandelier was also newly designed, and it was sparkly and full of diamonds…and when it fell from the ceiling, with flashes of fire and light, it was truly dazzling! I admit, I missed the old design of my favourite chandelier, but the new one definitely got the job done as well!
And what of the actors who played my three most favourite roles? The entire cast was absolutely incredible (shout out to Carlotta and Piangi, as well as Messieurs Firmin and André, who were truly hilarious!), and the actors who played the Phantom (Chris Mann) and Raoul (Storm Lineberger) hit the notes exactly how I wanted them to – they evoked the exact feelings I was hoping for, and they played opposite each other really well. The audience really got the sense that the Phantom and Raoul are totally different men, each with something unique and intriguing to offer to their ingénue. The actress who played Christine was Celia Hottenstein at this performance, and she was excellent as well – she had a powerful but delicate and lovely voice, and she really shone during Think of Me and Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again. She perfectly nailed the combination of innocence and strength that is so crucial to Christine’s character, and I thought she looked very elegant in all of her incredible costumes!
Overall, I’d say that the production was a hit! Obviously, I have my favourite Phantoms (Colm Wilkinson forever and always, and recently Ramin Karimloo) and Christines (particularly Sierra Boggess, but also Rebecca Caine), and I will never stop hearing their voices when I play the famous songs in my head. But, every new production has a new cast of wonderful actors, and I was not disappointed with yesterday’s performances whatsoever! I was very impressed and so so pleased…and the main thing is that SS was moved and totally in awe of the whole production! I think he very quickly became a Phan!
And that’s all that matters to me, in the end! For the first time in my life, I allowed the man I love to experience and become acquainted with the music and story that has made me into the woman he loves. It was a risk, but it all went perfectly…and now, I will never have any passions or loves to hide from the man I hope to have beside me forever. As my #JNGListens quote from today suggests, there was so much love in that theatre last night for me, and all of my hopes and dreams were totally fulfilled!
With a full heart,
Girl with a Green Heart
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