From September 2 until October 29, the Sydney Opera House will be buzzing with excitement as Phantom arrives in Australia for the first time since May 23 2009. Until 1957, when Danish architect Jørn Utzon won an international competition to design an opera house for Sydney’s Bennelong point, architecture consisted of cubes and rectangles. Now the Opera House stands in the harbour, an iconic piece of modern expressionism with its concrete ‘shells’ composed of sections of a sphere. It is only fitting that it is here that the entertainment industry’s reemergence following the global pandemic should play host to an opera with a 30yr plus track record of successful performances.
The first public performance in the Sydney Opera House on September 28 1973, was Sergei Prokofiev’s epic production of War and Peace. The following night the Concert Hall presented an all Wagner program performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Following these spectacular warm-up events, the Grand Opening on October 20, 1973, was attended by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony no.9. Almost half a century since the Sydney Opera House opened its doors, Australia is ready to take on one of the largest musical productions ever staged in this country – The Phantom of the Opera.
Circa 1990, an original production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, was performed with Australia’s Anthony Warlow playing the lead role. He reprised the role in Melbourne in 2007 at the Princess Theatre and embarked on a two-year tour of Australia and New Zealand. The tour visited Brisbane, Sydney, Auckland, Perth, and finished up in Adelaide on May 23 2009. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1980s adaptation of the Phantom has been the second longest-running show in the West End, and after more than thirty years, the curtain has finally come down due to the financial impact of the pandemic. Like the Pheonix from the ashes, Phantom will never die and has been given an overhaul as it embarks on its world tour. The lead is another well-known Aussie native, Josh Piterman, who completed a successful six-month run in the West End until theatres were forced to close. This is a significant coup for Sydney as it arrives at the Sydney Opera House in September, helping this important sector get back on its feet. Piterman said it means so much to be “able to play the Phantom at home, helping resurrect our industry and bring people back to our theatres.”
The production will be overseen by Cameron Mackintosh and Matthew Bourne, and directed in Australia by associate Seth Sklar-Heyn. With Paul Brown on staging and scenery and the historic award-winning costumes of the late Maria Björnson, the team has helped bring together sell-out national UK and US tours grossing US$400 million. A slice of that pie would go down very well after the 2020 – 2021 theatrical hiatus.
Gaston Leroux breathed life into the Phantom with his novel Le Fantôme de L’Opéra in the early 20th century. The story was based on partly historical events at the Paris Opera, Palais Garnier—and partly based on rumours. Leroux heard that at the end of Act l of the opera Helle a fire started in the roof, the fire melted the counterweight of a giant chandelier, and it crashed down, injuring audience members and killing one. Leroux was fascinated by the rumours that a ghost resided in the opera house, so with a hefty dose of fiction and reality, Le Fantôme was conceived. It is worth mentioning, Leroux believed the rumours of the ghost’s existence and wrote about his research in the prologue to the novel.
The Phantom of the Opera is set in Paris in the 1880s. Erik is a deformed conjurer who worms his way into the opera house to undertake some paid work. While there, he builds himself a series of tunnels and a secret lair where he can move about unseen and spy on the managers – enter centre stage, the Opera Ghost. It isn’t long before he sets eyes on a beautiful young Swedish soprano, Christine Daaé, whose career he champions as his love interest in her heightens. The Phantom uses threats of violence and blackmail to force Christine into his lair, aiming to persuade her to become his wife. His plans are scuppered when Raoul, a childhood friend of Christine, also develops feelings for her. The opera is interspersed with passion and romance, as the story follows the unlikely trio (with the addition of ‘The Persian’, a mysterious man from Erik’s past) as Raoul tries to free Christine from the grasp of the Phantom, and as the Phantom endeavours to kill Raoul in the process.
The falling chandelier at the Palais Garnier was one of the catalysts that threw Leroux into the story of the Phantom; therefore, it remains an integral part of the production. With advances in technology and special effects, the plummeting chandelier moment has become more sophisticated over time. Keep your eyes peeled for an unusually large chandelier above your head in the stalls! All the old familiar songs will be filling your head for weeks to come as you enjoy, ‘Think of Me’, ‘Angel of Music’, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, ‘The Music of the Night’, and ‘All I ask of You’.
The music isn’t the only soul food in store for you. There are 370 costumes in total, with 280 of them used daily. Maria Björnson’s designs are extravagant, with each performer enveloped in romantic expressionism. Every piece you see today originates from her original designs. Associate costume designer, Sam Fleming, said that “over time, we have done five different sculpts for the phantom mask itself because she kept wanting it to be more interesting…” The designs are very complicated, with intricate details such as gold thread and beads considered. The wardrobe department is relining and remaking Björnson’s designs, keeping them looking as good as when the performers first stepped out onto the stage wearing them.
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