Festive frivolities have played havoc with my body clock, so I find myself wide awake at 6.30am on a Sunday while the beloved snoozes peacefully next door. I like this time of day, especially at the weekend: I like being awake when nobody else is and I like the idea that the day still holds unlimited possibilities. Mostly, I just like that it’s quiet, because on a crowded estate full of kids and drug dealers it’s almost never quiet. Even my typing sounds loud, and each time a car passes outside on the main road I can hear it from a long way away and I have time to wonder who’s in it, and where they might be going at this unlikely hour.
Anyway, being awake when I don’t need to be gives me the chance to write a post which has been percolating for months, or maybe years. I’ve shared my theory about The Phantom of the Opera at dinner parties and seen eyes glaze over and people quietly excuse themselves to go and hide in the bathroom until I’ve finished, so I think it’s only fair to bring it to a wider audience. If you find your attention wandering before I get to the end I suggest you go and read a book instead.
Put simply, the theory is this: the really interesting love story in the musical version of The Phantom of the Opera is not the story of the Phantom and Christine Daaé, but the story of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sarah Brightman. There are some obvious parallels: genius composer with an unprepossessing appearance falls in love with beautiful young singer for whom he holds an unexpected fascination. She is in his power for a while, but ultimately they must part.
When the Phantom discovers that he has a rival for Christime’s affections he laments:
He was bound to love you
When he heard you sing
which I think is about as close to a personal declaration of love from the composer to his leading lady as you can get.
In the original novel there is no suggestion that Christine loves the Phantom; she is frightened of him and desperate to escape his clutches and return to her true love, Raoul. The musical is much more ambiguous – compare and contrast publicity images for an early film adaptation of the book:
And the stage show:
I think that when Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote The Phantom of the Opera what he was really writing was history’s most extravagant love letter. In Love Never Dies, the follow-up, Christine’s love for the phantom is reaffirmed, and we even learn that, contrary to the fairly well established plot of the original, he rejected her the last time around:
And when it was done,
Before the sun could rise
Ashamed of what I was
Afraid to see your eyes.
I stood while you slept
And whispered a goodbye.
And slipped into the dark
Beneath a moonless sky.
And I loved you,
Yes I loved you.
I’d have followed any where you led.
I woke to swear my love,
And found you gone instead.
But that’s OK, because, ahem, love never dies, you see, so it doesn’t matter that they’re not together any more:
Love never fades
Love never falters
Hearts may get broken
So yes, perhaps the Phantom ran away before Christine could tell him she loved him, and well, perhaps Andrew Lloyd Webber met his third wife before he’d strictly moved on from the second one*, but love endures. And if the Phantom and Christine really are Andrew and Sarah then there is something rather beautiful and moving about the revisiting of the story many years later. I don’t want to give away the story of Love Never Dies in case someone bought you tickets for Christmas, but you could, if you were so inclined, read it as a loving goodbye to something important, and if that’s what it is then Lloyd Webber has followed up his expensive and extended love letter to his wife with an equally extended and expensive letter of farewell to her, which is charming, and something that only he would have the chutzpah and the wherewithal to do.
*I read a brilliant story once about Andrew Lloyd Webber introducing his third and current wife, Madeline, to someone and referring to her as “Sarah” throughout the conversation. Apparently she was unfazed by it. I like to think that Sarah was his muse and his inspiration but Madeline is his soul mate so knows she needn’t worry about Sarah. It’s possible I have spent too much time considering the love life of Andrew Lloyd Webber.