Tonight I saw “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Orpheum in Minneapolis. I saw the musical for the first time in NYC when I was 16 (WAY back in 1990) with my Auntie Toni; my parents thought it would make a great 16th birthday present, and they were right. I’ve seen it once or twice since then, and I can sing along with the entire 2 1/2 hours. My daughter has joined me in her love of the musical as well, and she is in love with it almost as much as I am.
When I watched the movie for the 2nd or 3rd time (yes, I am hooked), I realized something that I had never realized before…Christine Daae is a young woman in a very unhealthy relationship, and she struggles to know what she should do about it. I do believe that, in some ways, she is in love with the Phantom. He has allowed her song/soul to take flight in a way that she never thought possible. However, once she truly sees the man behind the mask (emotionally as much/more so than physically), she is repulsed at the evil that is revealed.
Christine then is faced with what to do, and she essentially “breaks it off” with the phantom – only to go directly into a rebound relationship with Raul. For the remainder of the musical, she remains torn between the man who will protect her (Raul) and the man who demands to possess her (the phantom). In the final interchange between her and the phantom, she claims to despise him in one line and kisses him in the next. True – she is attempting to save Raul’s life with this act, but the music leads us to believe that there is tenderness and care being expressed on some level.
Christine is depicted as a weak/timid character in the beginning of the musical, but with the phantom’s help, she becomes an accomplished opera diva. One gets the sense that on her own, she is a frightened child…and her confidence lies in the “angel of music who sings songs in her head.” Raul becomes her confidence later and does assist her in getting out the grasp of the phantom. However, overall – Christine has no ability to be confident on her own. She needs a man in her life – no matter how unhealthy the relationship is – in order to have the confidence she needs to be this accomplished opera diva…first the phantom and then Raul.
I love this musical – I really, really do. The music is in a class of its own, and the variety of genre within the musical (opera with electric guitar – what would Wagner say???) is by far one of the most appealiing aspects of the musical.
What concerns me, however, is the message of the musical as it pertains to its heroine. The message that it sends is that a woman needs a man in her life….no matter who he is. And if he turns out to be dangerous, just find another one to help you get out of the mess.
I would be just as concerned if the tragic figure of the phantom were a phantomess…so this is not a feminist movement moment…the fact is that the musical does not portray one healthy relationship, and that concerns me. The scary part is that it has taken me 5-7 times of watching the musical to really flesh that out.