Gaston Leroux's tale of a disfigured genius living in the cellars of the Paris Opéra and falling in love with a beautiful singer has become a classic,Gaston Leroux's tale of a disfigured genius living in the cellars of the Paris Opéra and falling in love with a beautiful singer has become a classic, thanks due to the many film adaptations and especially to Andrew Lloyd Webber's award-winning musical sensation.
After the début of Webber's version, the Phantom theme has grown into a cultural phenomenon with a league of “Phans” enthralled with the love story cum mystery thriller similar to the Romantic generation of the 19th century that was captivated by Goethe's “Faust”. The story of the Phantom, the man with a devil's face and an angel's voice, has inspired many fan-based fictions and professional re-creations. There are the prequels revealing the life of Erik, the man fated to become L'Opéra's resident ghost, how he assumed the phantasmal role and meets Christine, the object of his passion. Then we have the sequels, the myriad of “what if's” that could have happened to the main characters after the tragic love triangle has sung its last trio at the opera house.
The urge to explore the characters in more depth is difficult to ignore: Gaston Leroux left many blanks and character-development enigmas that remain unanswered in his novel. Who is the mysterious “Persian” and how did he become the Phantom's one and only friend? Why did Christine refuse to leave with Raoul, her sweetheart, when he provided the opportunity to escape? Did she really love Erik but was afraid to admit it? The biggest mystery is Erik's life: the Phantom of the Opera wasn't always a Phantom.
Leroux hints at the sad details in the Epilogue of his novel, but that is all they are, vague glimpses into a shattered childhood and loveless existence. In a few paragraphs, Leroux declares Erik's father was a stonemason and that he was born in a small town on the outskirts of Rouen. Because of his facial deformity, he was an object of horror and shame to his parents and was forced to run away. Eventually his extraordinary talents in music caught the attention of a travelling showman and he put Erik on display as “The Living Corpse” similar to the “Elephant Man”. How he was treated and how long he was forced to live like this, we do not know. Erik's talents also extended to many other fields, architecture being one, and he travelled to the Middle East, entering into the service of the Shah of Persia and the Sultan of Turkey. In addition to constructing some of the palaces, he entertained his royal employers with his inventions and magic arts, in the process he became privy to many state secrets. However, because he knew too much, was compelled to flee the executioner both times. He finally returned to France and the rest is history as they say. Leroux focused his story on just the last six months or so of Erik's tragic yet adventurous life, and leaves all the rest. Is it a wonder Phans want to hear more?
As far as I am aware, Susan Kay's novel was one of the first prequel / sequel recreations that appeared in print from a major publisher, and in fact, may have started the “vogue” to retell the Phantom's story, hence the sudden explosion in Phantom books. By far, it is still the best Phantom-based literary creation after Leroux's original ~ any time a Phan recommends someone to Leroux's book, the next phrase they will usually utter is, “You will have to read Susan Kay's book too.” I agree. Kay delves into the depths of the human element of the story where Leroux concentrated on the mystery-thriller aspect of his novel. Of course, Kay had to use her own imagination to fill the blanks, and there are many parts and new characters that are her own invention, such as Erik's providential introduction to an Italian stonemason during his teenage years, and his first experience of falling in love only to have it end in tragedy, meaning Christine is not his first love according to Kay. Kay also rewrites what happens at the opera house since she cannot complete rehash Leroux's work, which would be plagiarism, but I think he would be pleasantly surprised by her re-working of the story if he could read it today. In addition to her emotionally-charged exploration of the characters, Kay's research into the history of the times is very accurate and she handles the story in its historical context admirably. Furthermore, her writing style is a pleasure to read. This a page-turner from beginning to end. Definitely worth a Five-Star rating.
A note to parents, if you are wondering if this is for suitable for Young Adults (YA), I would suggest you read it first: while there are no over-the-top racy scenes, there are one or two sections that are of a mature / adult / disturbing subject matter that you may want to be read for yourself and decide if it suitable for your children.
E.A. Bucchianeri author of “Faust: My Soul be Damned for the World, 2 vols)” “Brushstrokes of a Gadfly” “A Compendium of Essays: Purcell, Hogarth and Handel, Beethoven, Liszt, Debussy, and Andrew Lloyd Webber” ...more
The Palais Garnier, better known as the Paris Opera House, despite the fact it now houses the National Ballet after the opera company moved to the newThe Palais Garnier, better known as the Paris Opera House, despite the fact it now houses the National Ballet after the opera company moved to the new glass edifice in the Bastille district in the early 1990s. Many would agree the Palais Garnier is the most beautiful and imposing of all the opera houses ever built. The great building, intended to show off the burgeoning grandeur of France under the reign of Napoleon III, became famous as the setting for Gaston Leroux's romantic thriller, “The Phantom of the Opera”.
As an admirer of Leroux's tragic tale, (all right, I admit it, I'm an obsessed Phan), I could not help but be interested in the history of the Palais Garnier's construction. As far as I am aware, Christopher Mead's book is the one and only source that provides a detailed account of the opera house from a historical and architecturally academic point of view. If you are curious, yes, there is a lake in the cellars; however if you are looking for details on the history of the Phantom, sorry, Mead concentrates solely on Garnier and his magnificent building.
Mead gives a brief account of Garnier's biography, his architectural training, his experiences as a winner of the Prix de Rome and the skills he acquired in Italy, not to mention a list of other buildings post the opera house project. The author explains in detail the architectural ideals in France and Paris before and after the opera house was built, thus demonstrating the styles that influenced Garnier and also how he in turn affected building design in France and beyond. As to the opera house itself, Mead gives exhaustive details from the public competition calling for all architects to submits plans to the headaches Garnier and his team faced on a day to day basis, including budget cuts and more drastic hiccups such as official orders for redesigning the building depending on the whims of the Emperor, then the new French Republic after the fall of Napoleon III. It was a miracle the building was ever finished when we consider in addition to government hassles, it survived the Prussian invasion and the following civil war of the Paris Commune when Parisians were slaughtering each other.
Introduction: Garnier's Paris Opéra and a Question of Style 1: Charles' Garnier's Life 2: The Opéra Competition 3: Le Théâtre and Garnier's Theory of Composition 4: Building the Opéra 5: Rethinking French Classicism 6: The Renaissance of Classicism Epilogue: Garnier's Paris Opéra and the Stylistic Character of Empathy Appendix 1: Garnier's Public Career Appendix 2: Garnier's Student Travels Appendix 3: Garnier's Architectural Works Apart from the Paris Opéra Notes Bibliography Index
The book is greatly enhanced with photographs showing everything from the first designs to the other competition entrants, the artists' architectural drawings as the building was under construction and more. Unfortunately, they are all in black and white, but they are so interesting Mead can be forgiven not including full colour photos. Since Mead was granted full access to the Garnier archives, for the first time he provides primary source material never seen before by the public. There are many quotations included from Garnier's notes, the supporting architects, snippets from the dossiers of the French government, and many other official statements relating to the buildings construction, however, they are included in French in the text with the English translations in the footnotes and appendixes at the back of the book, which makes for constant flipping back and forth if you cannot read French. However, this book is so informative, it is worth the flipping. I highly recommend this work if you are interested in the architectural history of the Paris Opera House....more