In This Labyrinth: Justice From the Heart of The Phantom Of The Opera

Love of Phantom meets love of justice.

Reference Notes for Episode 16 Discussion of Haunting

Here are the references for episode 16 where I talked about haunting.

Gordon, Avery F. (2008) Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis, Mn. University of Minnesota Press.

The book is an in-depth, deeply poetic exploration of haunting as the on-going effects of trauma and injustice that refuse to just die or be silent. As I said in the episode, I’m going to be thinking about it and how what the book says pertains to Phantom for a very long time!!

Erik/The Phantom’s having been driven into the shadows:

“Besides, was he not as ugly as ever? He dreamed of creating, for his own use, a dwelling unknown to the rest of the earth where he could hide from men’s eyes for all time. … Poor, unhappy Erik. Shall we pity him? Shall we curse him? He asked only to be some one like everybody else. But he was too ugly, and he had to hide his genius, or use it to play tricks with. When, with an ordinary face, he would have been one of the most distinguished of mankind. He had a heart that could have held the empire of the world. And in the end, he had to content himself with a cellar. Oh yes, we must needs pity the Opera Ghost.” (Leroux/Damatos trans. epilogue).

“Hounded out by everyone, met with hatred everywhere, no kind words from anyone, no compassion anywhere! Christine, Christine, why? Why?” (Lloyd Webber, Hart and Stilgo Act II scene 8).

In Leroux, and to some extent in Kay, too, Erik uses his “deformity” as part of his Opera Ghost persona, playing on its power to repulse and frighten.  This is implied in the passages in Leroux (Damatos trans.) in which characters other than Christine are described seeing him around the Opera (Joseph Buquet’s description of having seen him given in Chapter 1, when Erik crashes Debienne’s and Poligny’s retirement gala dinner in chapter 3), or when he crashes the masquerade in chapter 9.  It’s also suggested in Chapter 5 of Leroux when Raoul confronts Erik in the cemetery at Peros.  In all these instances, he’s described as having a “Death’s head” like a skull, which, we learn in chapter 12, is his actual face.  And in chapter 21 (I believe), the Persian describes Erik wearing a false nose when going out in public (as in chapter 3 when Erik crashes the gala), which the Persian describes as rendering Erik almost tolerable to look at.  Whereas, when he’s with Christine, Erik wears a full mask, exactly because he does not want to frighten or repulse her (Leroux/Damatos trans. chapter 12).  And Erik’s home, meanwhile, can be read  as at once an attempt to replicate a “respectable” bourgeois home, a tomb in which he has prematurely buried himself, and a self-tormenting reminder of “what he is” and what he believes he cannot have (see Leroux/Damatos trans. Chapters 12 and 26).

In ALW, by contrast, the Phantom makes his mask part of his Phantom persona rather than using his “deformity” to repulse and frighten. And he fashions his Phantom persona as closer to that of romantic/romanticized outlaw rather than grotesque apparition. This can be seen especially in Act I scenes 4 and 5, and also that here his home - his “Lair” - is implied to be part of his Phantom persona rather than being separate from it.

For images of the Phantom’s very romanticized-outlaw look, including of his “Lair”, and of course for the full libretto, see Perry, George (1987). The Complete Phantom of the Opera. Pavillion Books Ltd.

Things that can be read as Erik’s/The Phantom’s demands for redress/compensation/reparations: his “salary” of 20,000 francs a month (Leroux/Damatos trans. Epilogue, ALW Act I scenes 1 and 7), and his demand that the Opera perform his Don Juan Triumphant in ALW (Act II scenes 1 and 3). These demands, although it’s not stated explicitly, directly address the ways Erik/The Phantom has been excluded from the mainstream economy and from artistic recognition because of the prejudice against his “deformity”. Whereas, his demands for Christine’s love, while wrongly acted on, seek to address the ways he’s been excluded from the social fabric of friendship and family (Leroux/Damatos trans. Chapters 22-Epilogue, Lloyd Webber, Hart and Stilgoe Act I scenes 6 and 10, Act II scenes 8 and 9).

My discussions of the ways music and music education had been (more or less) democratized by the time POTO takes place, and of the ensuing cultural conversation about representation that began then and continues to this day, come from my recollection of my music-history courses back in undergrad. However, below, at least, is some info on the Verismo school of opera that was taking off just shortly after the time POTO seems to be set, and just before the time of the publication of the original Leroux novel. Note that, although the “official”, self-styled “verismo” movement got going a bit after the time when Phantom takes place, it was preceded by earlier literary, artistic and musical trends during that period as well as contributing to the artistic, philosophical and political conversations that followed it. Also, although the Verismo movement itself was quite small, it was the more radical (for its time) edge of a broader movement towards using opera/theatre to tell the stories of common people rather than the elite.

Note, none of these articles mention Puccini’s La Boheme, but I would argue that it definitely forms part of this movement toward “realism” in opera because of its portrayal of the passions and struggles of ordinary people - struggling artists, workers, minorities, people dying of consumption (aka tuberculosis which was among the leading killers of the poor at the time).

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