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Fringe Online 2020

The Phantom of the Opera

Universal and The Really Useful Theatre Company

Genre: Fringe Online Theatre, Live Music, Mainstream Theatre, Musical Theatre, Theatre

Venue: The Royal Albert Hall

Festival: ,

Low Down

The 2011 production directed by Laurence Connor including guest appearances at the end from its classic first cast. Produced by Cameron Mackintosh directed by Laurence Connor, musical staging and choreography by Gillian Lynne, set design by Matt Kinley, costume design by Maria Björnson, lighting design by Patrick Woodroffe, and sound design by Mick Potter.

Head of Make-Up Tanya Noor. Head of Wigs Katie Dear, Associate Music director Adam Rowe. Lighting Programmer Andfrew Voller, Lighting Crew Chief Richard Gorood. For XL Video Camera Director Ruary Macphie.

Some might experience buffering issues, not present in the previous broadcasts, which might be down to the uptake. Just before the interval it became on first viewing more buffering opera than opera buffa. For a day only. Till April 18th.


The Phantom of the Opera’s Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s most successful musical of all and this is the Albert Hall 2011 production directed by Laurence Connor including its classic first cast. So the third musical streamed live from The Shows Must Go On carries a health warning: 24 hours only, not the already-truncated 48, for contractual reasons. The rest of the world gets 48 hours but for some obscure reason the UK doesn’t. So grab it now.

Charles Hart, Richard Stilgoe adapt Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel of 19th century obsession, a young aspiring opera singer stalked by a serial killer who skulks under the opera house. The 2011 musical staging and choreography by Gillian Lynne set design by Matt Kinley, costume design by Maria Björnson, lighting design by Patrick Woodroffe, and sound design by Mick Potter.

There’s a bit of reverse engineering for the two stars in this 2011 25th anniversary revival. It stars Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess, who’d already portrayed the Phantom and Christine in Lloyd Webber’s new Phantom Of The Opera sequel (there’s a spoiler!) Love Never Dies a year earlier, reunite to play their earlier selves here.

Hadley Fraser supports as stolid lover Raoul and Wendy Ferguson’s princess-y diva Carlotta in fine operatic heft. Wynne Evans  is Piangi, Barry James Monsieur Firmin, Gareth Snook Monsieur Andre,  Liz Robertson Madame Giry, and Daisy Maywood Meg Giry. Vocally they’re all superb but diction to is crystalline. That’s not always a given.

We’ve seen before how adept Lloyd-Webber can wrap pastiche round his own voice to discover what it is. All those styles in Joseph, the Prokofiev echoes in Superstar, where Lloyd-Webber’s own voice is even more individual. Here he reverts to it.

This time though he needs singers of a different heft for cod-opera-buffa – like Ferguson. Though with Evans James and Snook she moves with enviable lightness through some of the comedic G&S tripping numbers and Mozartian complexity in vocal quartets as the Phantom prepares to wreak his terrible revenge.

So fully-fledged operatic passages are reserved – though not exclusively – for subsidiary characters: owners Andre and Firmin, volatile Carlotta (leading soprano for 19 seasons, Ferguson gloriously cut-through), Piangi. Maywood’s soubrette-role Meg Giry shows a vivid clear range vocally, strong enough to make one regret her role’s so small, though she’s last on stage.

Like Bernard Hermann’s Salammbo aria in Citizen Kane, they fillet fictive operas within the show itself. So Hannibal, Il Muto, and the Phantom’s masterwork, Don Juan Triumphant. That music’s a bit out of time, suggesting the Phantom himself’s a kind of modernist. Conventional Parisians would have loathed it more than Berlioz!

Here Lloyd Webber pastiches various styles from someone whose gargantuan ambitions prefigure him, Rossini’s slightly older successor: Giaccomo Meyerbeer’s grand operas are forgotten now but were the staple of Paris two generations earlier – you feel he should have got to Phantom first! Mozart’s there and naturally Gilbert and Sullivan from whom Lloyd-Webber descends and the opening Hannibal number comes after a blast of cod-organ-noir and before the interruptions.

These pieces flash out as musical fragments, interrupted – as in French opera convention anyway – by dialogue or action sequences to define the musical’s ‘show within a show’ format. Nor do we lack the obligatory Parisian ballet (Meyerbeer-style): Lloyd-Webber knows the territory. Pastiche, nuanced tonal difference? No sweat.

It’s 1905. After a spoken prologue we’re at an auction in a run-down opera house. An old chandelier from the opera Hannibal, and items including a musical box are sold to a wheelchair-bound man who has some skin in the game. The item’s hammered and suddenly soars up to its rightful place at the Opéra Populaire (aka Opéra Comique). It’s all artfully set up, not just key components of the plot but musical styles – Meyerbeer’s famous (and real) Robert le Diable. Pretty appropriate.

1881. From his hideout beneath a 19th century Paris opera house, the brooding Phantom schemes to get closer to young ballet-girl turned opera-singer Christine Daae, here taken by Boggess. She’s grieving her father and long mistaken the Phantom as a musical angel sent by him (a famous violinist now dead) who’s Svengali-bent on turning her innate gifts into those of a great diva.

Christine innocently replaces Carlotta who’s stalked out (courtesy of Phantom disruption) now the new owners don’t seem to have placated the Phantom’s first visit and we get ‘Think of Me’.

That does it and we’re finally into musical territory. Lloyd-Webber’s style here sashays gently from opera, though I wish he’d brought bolder lyricism to it – the occasion with a colaratura cadenza at the end though mean that’s not going to happen. It’s still lovely and Boggess enjoys a ringing upper range. Christine’s secret angel approves – transmitted by Robertson’s mysterious stern Madame Giry.

Even miced up, it’s clear Boggess’ vocal power is operatic and thrilling. It earns the admiration of the opera company’s benefactor (owner at one remove), handsome young aristocrat Raoul Comte de Changy. Raoul knew her as a child and fears she’s forgotten him. Fraser matches Boggess in ardent lyricism. So we’re into the triangle.

In praising the Angel, the would-be lovers don’t even know they’re singing the praises of the jealous third, a love rival, Karimloo’s Phantom whose voice is rightly a commandingly high baritone and he soon muscles in ordering a strict self-denying regime.

Duetting with Boggess is a highlight, for instance their first ‘The Phantom of the Opera is There’ with its faux guignol the most memorable number. Their performance is shot through with eroticism and here they’re almost making love, Boggess leaving no doubt as to her sexual response. Difficult, that.

Masking his birth-disfigurement the Phantom strong-arms management into giving the budding Christine key roles, including ones he’s written; but still Christine’s fallen for Raoul. Terrified the Phantom plots to keep Christine near, while Raoul tries to foil the scheme. There’s still time for the lovers to get their clinch in first. ‘Anywhere you Go Let Me Go Too’ is lovely and heart-warming, though not truly memorable. Boggess and Fraser sell it soaring.

Kinley’s set grabs the Albert Hall with erupting fire-pipes, sudden backdrops fronting the organ, a dazzling use of stage with swirling props: the Hall’s born for so many scenes. The boat and night scenery with its monstering use of height blends perfectly with the Hall’s touch of mid-19th century kitsch

It’s sumptuous too in Maria Björnson’s costume design – the virid yellow-green pattern of the opening dresses give way to a midnight blue and white scheme with Degas-like ballet dancers straight out of Giselle, which turn into yellow ones later. And a red-green blaze for the Masquerade mimicking the musical box. It’s more Second Empire on acid than Third but who cares? And there’s that billowing mint-green cloak Christine expresses ecstasy in. It’s like death by mint chocolate!

Still, does the devilish Phantom get the best tunes? Not just in the agonized ’You Will Curse the Day’ based on that opening organ tritone, but in those he inspires in his commanding fear over others – shading their material.

And… is this heresy? It’s the last forty minutes that explode into incandescence, bringing in the best melodies from earlier too. It’s really the Phantom’s world that sings, drawing deeply upon the creative process that sets Lloyd-Webber’s own fires.

It erupts from the Don Juan Triumphant music onwards: a mix of late Puccini, Respighi (he composed operas sounding just like this), a dash of post-war German expressionism, mainly Franz Schrecker. It’s thrilling – its ‘There’s No Going Back Now’ blazing unbridled eroticism from Boggess and the disguised Karimloo.

Memorable numbers morph into true music theatre seamlessly. ‘The Phantom of the Opera is There’ is one, ‘Masquerade’ another – and richly varies with terrific orchestral shading. ‘There’s No Going Back Now’ twines with the later great number the Phantom’s agonized ‘It’s Over Now the Music of the Night’. (It’s true this resembles  a recurring theme in Puccini’s 1910 opera La Fanciulla del West but it’s mostly repaid and we see it more than Puccini’s Cindarella opera.)  Not for nothing though does ‘The Phantom of the Opera is There’ resemble the opening send-up signature on the organ – five notes down then up, in a tritone – the one we remember. The first ten notes of the show are the seed of everything good.

There’s enormous heft and sophistication, much richer scenarios and ambiguities in Phantom than some earlier musicals. I love both ballet musics, the sheer splendour of its self-referencing homage and the ‘Masquerade’ Ballet is a spectacle for Phantoms of all ages to die for, including its choric accompaniment. The intermission medley preceding it is a joy too, almost (again heretically) making us enjoy the music most in its pure orchestral guise.

Don’t just switch-off after the bows! Like Jesus Christ Superstar, but even more, there’s a touching tribute. In a lengthy encore, the show’s original West End and Broadway stars, Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, take the stage to sing their signature numbers. Brightman’s beset by a parade of previous Phantoms. Wonderful.