The ghost in us? (Ruminating on the Phantom)

Two days ago, I was lucky enough to tag along with my sis to watch The Phantom of the Opera at the CCP. I say lucky because the balcony tickets were free and this was, sort of, consolation for missing the Maroon 5 concert — again. Given the spectacle of it all, t’was a pretty good tradeoff.

The imported cast sang their lungs off and earned their triple bows (The Really Useful Company Asia Pacific and Lunchbox Theatrical Productions — bravo!), and even from the vantage point of our vertigo-inducing seats, the set design was lovely beyond belief — from the stage within a stage, to the Phantom’s watery lair, to the tiered staircase for the masquerade ball. The costumes were wild and made up for our blurry view of the cast’s countenances.

Phantom isn’t a favorite of mine — far from it. It’s over the top, based on what is arguably the French equivalent of a penny dreadful. Plus the music can be histrionic as befits a pseudo-opera (“I love her! Does that mean nothing? I love her!” sings a frantic viscount Raoul in a bid to save his childhood sweetheart) and fairly annoying in its discordant notes. (See, I don’t really like Sarah Brightman’s vocal tone and a musical written for her to showcase that very tone is easy to dislike.)

But even someone like me, not entirely enamored of the musical, can appreciate a well-done production. And yes, like everyone else, my favorite songs are still “Think of Me,” “All I Ask of You” (plus Reprise) and “Past the Point of No Return.”

Then there’s the pull of the character of the Phantom. By turns pathetic and romantic, this manipulative, murderous mofo has admittedly fascinated and won over audiences for a quarter of a decade, perhaps more if we date from inception.

Why? Yes, he insinuated himself into an orphaned child’s consciousness (via old school mesmerism?) as a benevolent and later fearsome “angel of music.” Yes, his passion for his art led him to extortion while terrorizing an entire opera house. And yes, he attempted to subjugate his muse and favorite soprano — as he turned into a warped Pygmalion by falling in love with her, stalking and then kidnapping her, and finally, blackmailing her with her lover’s life held in the balance.

We like this creeper because like Christine, we are seduced by his grand passion, and our compassion is also roused by his alienation. It’s not Stockholm syndrome; blame it on charisma. This creeper has oodles of it. He’s impotent, disfigured, and a pathological killer — but still lovable in all his unstable glory. (And admit it — we’ve all been suckers for love and relate to his wanting, so badly, to be loved. Yes, I’m accusing y’all who took those photographs in front of the iconic half-mask before and after the show, of being afflicted by romantic sentiment.)

“Lead me, save me from my solitude… anywhere you go, let me go, too” he beseeches Christine, in a parody of the earlier lovers’ exchange between her and Raoul, and your heart breaks for the crazy git.

Apparently everyone loves even the worst kind of dangerous lover, merely because he is broken by a simple kiss from the object of his obsession.

Really, we’re all just plumb crazy to fall under the spell of this musical.

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