The Phantom of the Opera (Lynch & Paterson)
Twelfth Night Theatre
November 10 – 17
Lynch and Paterson’s brand new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most famous musical begins with atmospheric rumbling sounds befitting its shadowy start. They are, however, barely audible below the audience buzz at opening night of “The Phantom of the Opera”.
The 1986 musical, which is based on the classic novel Le Fantôme de L’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, tells the spellbinding story of a beautiful soprano Christine Daaé (Samantha Paterson) who becomes the obsession of a mysterious disfigured musical genius (Nathan Keen) living in the subterranean labyrinth beneath the Paris Opera House. Its story opens at the Opera Populaire in Paris in 1911. An auction of various memorabilia from the Opera’s past is underway when the auctioneer asks if we remember the story of the Phantom of the Opera. As an enormous chandelier rises above our heads, the auctioneer reveals that it was involved in a famous disaster, connected to the mysterious affair of the Phantom. And thus, the chandelier leads us back to the time of that opera ghost complete with iconic half mask, the rising young singer under his tutelage and the man who loved her.
The reveal from there is an impressive take into the now well-known story. Expectations are certainly heightened by audience familiarity with, and past experiences of, the record-breaking musical. Indeed, it is an ambitious production, full of staging challenges and Lynch & Paterson’s biggest show yet. Attempt is made to make full use of the relatively small Twelfth Night Theatre stage, as its heights are explored through The Phantom’s lead of Christine to the rafters and then on a small boat to cross a lake in lure to his secret lair in the titular number. There are lots of moving parts to the cinematic aesthetic, in sometimes distracting transition. Lines of sight for some audience members through to the side-of-stage lighting and crew movement detract from pivotal moments like when Christine is irresistibly drawn through the mirror to The Phantom’s first apperance.
A bit cast fills the stage in what is an elaborate production. Still, the ensemble impresses, for example, in Act Two’s opening masquerade ball scene ‘Masquerade’, which is a highpoint of performance and design. The tapestry of harlequin themed outfits is a colourful show of Anita Sweeney’s costume design, enlivened by Jayden Grogan’s orderly choreography. It’s a memorable number too in its contrast to the shadowy candle-lit Gothic atmosphere created by David Lawrence’s set design.
Iconic imagery is important, however, in the case of “The Phantom of the Opera”, it is all about the songs, which are beautifully sung. Kneen makes for a commanding creature of darkness, born with a deformed face and cruelly exhibited in a cage as part of a travelling fair until he eventually escaped and took refuge beneath the opera house. With a commanding stage presence and bold, rich voice, he perfectly portrays the character’s complexity. His vocal control is exquisite and his faultless delivery of the seductive ‘Music of the Night’ is breathtakingly enchanting. And while his The Phantom is more menacing in Act Two, as his fierce, mesmerising love for Christine morphs into the obsession that determines the dramatic collision of jealousy, madness and passion when Christine’s childhood sweetheart Raoul (Jake Lyle) comes back into her life, there is still also a delicate vulnerability to maintain audience investment.
This is just one of his many glorious musical moments within the show. ‘Phantom of the Opera’ is magnificent in its musical intensity. Keen conveys tenderness without sacrificing strength and Paterson’s purity is voice is astounding as Christine responds to The Phantom’s request that she sing for him as his angel of beauty. As The Phantom commands Christine to sing ever higher, Paterson rises to it with her highest notes in the show and her operative voice becomes like a gift.
The lesser-known ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’ is not only moving but memorable in her hands, as, torn between her love for Raoul and her awe of The Phantom, Christine sings as she visits her father’s grave in search of guidance on the fateful day before a performance will decide her fate. It is as if the role of Christine was written for Paterson and she fills it not only vocally, but dramatically with a performance that appropriately travels between, sweetness, fascination, fear, pity and love. Lyle is also wonderful as Christine’s loyal eventual fiancé. He makes Raoul an endearing hero, particular in his sweetly touching duet with Christine, ‘All I Ask of You’, in which he promises to love and protect her, despite his scepticism about her encounter with The Phantom.
Lloyd Webber’s sensational score is obviously quite operatic in style, but it also maintains the form and structure of a musical throughout. Under Lucas D Lynch’s perceptive musical direction, the orchestra of extraordinary musicians of Cadenza Chamber Players stirs us through its iconic swelling strings of ‘Music of the Night’, in emphasis of its heightened emotions, and reminds us of the reprises, motifs and similar melodies that pepper the recognisable score, including the light tones that counterbalance its dark and turbulent emotional moments.
Musical performances are not all that impress. Tom Dood’s sublime lighting design, for example, hues a scene in rich red as, in the manager’s office, a note is delivered from The Phantom demanding that Christine replace Carlotta (Dominique Fegan), who has been criticised for her lack of performance emotion, as the Countess in the new opera. It creates a striking moment of pre-emptive punctuation as performers all pause in its wash ahead of The Phantom’s appearance.
The beauty is, however, balanced with some humour, such as when The Phantom enchants Carlotta’s voice to reduce it to a frog-like croak during the Opera House’s premiere of “Il Muto”. Darcy Rhodes and Lionel Theunissen also add some levity as new opera house managers, Monsieur Andre and Monsieur Firmin, especially in attempted reassurance to the fierce diva Carlotta that she will remain the company’s star, in the song ‘Prima Donna’.
As Opera Australia’s current Melbourne production’s buzz shows, there is an enduring popularity to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s gothic horror romance, and it is no surprise, therefore, that the entire season of Lynch & Paterson’s production is sold out prior even to opening night, such is the musical’s incredible legacy. And, as the audience leaves after standing in ovation even after the house lights have risen, it is with feelings of envy towards those yet to experience the exquisiteness of its sweet intoxication.
Photos c/o – PIF Productions