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Music in Gaston Leroux’s “The Phantom of the Opera”
The Managers’ Farewell Gala – Chapter 2
The Funeral March of a Marionette, Charles Gounod – This has been a perennial favorite with horror fans, particularly since it was used as the opening music for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Gounod originally intended for the composition to be a piano solo; but I think we’re all grateful he changed it to a full orchestral work – it wouldn’t be half so creepy if it was played on piano.
Overture to Sigurd, Ernest Reyer – The opera Sigurd was a sort of precursor to Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. Reyer made the mistake, however, of not having his work staged until 1884, nearly twenty years after it was completed and fifteen years after the premiere of Wagner’s Ring. Consequently, Sigurd has almost always been overlooked. Selections from the work were performed intermittently before the premiere. Sigurd was surprisingly successful for several decades before dropping into obscurity.
Danse Macabre and Rêverie Orientale, Camille Saint-Saëns - Everybody knows Danse Macabre (Saint-Saëns Op. 40). This is one of the most popular pieces of Classical music ever written. However, it was a total flop at its premiere in 1874 because the audience was too creeped-out by its dissonance. It is unlikely Danse Macabre would really have been played at a prestigious gala; however, Leroux most likely included this as it fits in with the theme of Erik being described as a “living corpse”.
If you attempt to research Saint-Saëns’ Rêverie Orientale, you will very likely come up with NOTHING. In and of itself, the Rêverie Orientale no longer exists: what Leroux describes in the novel was an 1875 composition which Saint-Saëns later reworked as the theme for his Op. 60, the Suite Algérienne. This is the closest we can now come to hearing the original. It doesn’t exactly have a horror movie sound, but it’s exotic and seems appropriate with Erik’s connection to the Orient.
Marche Hongroise Indèit, Jules Massenet – This one is pretty hard to track down. The title translates to “Hungarian March Unpublished” and it is most likely part of Massenet’s obscure Scènes Hongroise. However, it is also possible that Leroux at some point attended a concert which included a previously unperformed (and still unknown) march by Massenet.
Carnaval, Ernest Guiraud – The Carnaval Leroux refers to is the ballet from Guiraud’s 1876 opera Piccolino. And talk about plagiarizing yourself! – Guiraud “recycled” this tune from one of his earlier orchestral works.
Guiraud never gained much recognition as a composer. However, he was a well-known figure around the Paris theaters since he was nearly always called in to finish operas left incomplete by the untimely deaths of more lauded composers (e.g. Guiraud put the finishing touches on Bizet’s Carmen)
Pizzicati from Coppèlia and Valse Lente from Sylvia, Lèo Delibes – Unless I am terribly mistaken, Leroux made a little error when listing Lèo Delibes’ contributions to the managers’ farewell gala: There is indeed a Valse Lente (Slow Waltz) in the ballet Sylvia, but there is not a Pizzicati in Coppèlia. I think Leroux (or his editor) accidentally got the two reversed and meant to say that the Valse Lente from Act I of Coppèlia and the Pizzicati from Act III of Sylvia were performed at the gala.
Mercé, Dilette Amiche from I Vespri Sciliani, Giuseppe Verdi – In the novel, Leroux refers to this aria as the “bolero”. This is a notoriously difficult piece of music, due in no small part to the fact that it isn’t sung until Act V of the opera! The soprano, after undergoing several hours of operatic trauma, sings this aria when she briefly believes she will live happily-ever-after. But, alas, the opera isn’t over yet…
Gaston Leroux does not let Christine Daaè sing this song, but rather lists the performer as Marie Gabrielle Krauss (1842-1904), an Austrian soprano who would have been at her peak during the time the novel is set in. Leroux was not demeaning Daaè’s vocal ability: the soprano role in Verdi’s opera calls for a much heavier voice than Christine (or Carlotta) would have had.
Drinking Song from Lucrezia Borgia, Gaetano Donizetti – Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia was never successful and is now rarely performed. However, the brindisi or drinking song from Act III has always been a popular showpiece for mezzo-sopranos.
Nothing is more important to The Phantom of the Opera than Gounod’s Faust. A lot of people think this is because there are some sort of weird occult undertones to the novel. However, the real reason is that there is nothing more appropriate than to have a bunch of opera singers in France during the late 19th century performing what, at the time, was the most popular French opera ever written (Bizet’s Carmen was still considered a bit too seedy by most audiences).
Because Faust is performed several times throughout The Phantom of the Opera, pretty much all of the music is discussed; for example, Chapter 8 makes reference to the rather odd drinking song Vin ou Bière, as well as to the fact that Marguerite has only about four lines when she makes her entrance in Act II and has to wait until after the intermission for her part to really get started. However, the most lauded Phantom/Faust connection is the Act V trio Anges Purs, Anges Radieux, which Christine sings at the managers’ gala and wows the world. She is also singing this in Chapter 14 when she is kidnapped onstage by the Phantom. And, of course, Carlotta’s famous “croak” takes place in the middle of the Act III love scene.
La Juive – In Chapter 12, Christine scares Raoul to death by disappearing and “renewing her triumph” without the help of Erik by singing Halvey’s La Juive. Although it was immensely popular during the 19th century, the work has now been completely forgotten except for the soprano aria Il Va Venir.
Le Prophète – It is not surprising Leroux makes no reference to the music from Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète, but rather only to the “white horse” which Erik uses to help convey Christine down to his lair for the first time. Le Prophète is a terrible work (a roller-skating ballet in Act III?!?) which has easily been forgotten. However, a white horse is needed for the coronation scene in Act IV and provides a wonderful plot device in Leroux’s novel.
Otello – Verdi’s Otello is made reference to in Chapter 13 and is usually overlooked. But however brief it may be, it is chilling: Before the unmasking scene, Christine and Erik sing the Act III duet, Esterrefatta Fisso lo Sguardo Tuo Tremendo, which appropriately translates to “I am shocked by your dreadful look”.
When Erik kidnaps Christine the first time, he confesses he deceived her by saying he was the Angel of Music. The only way he keeps her from going is by singing “Desdemona’s love song” from Otello. Desdemona does not have an aria until the end of the opera and it is far from romantic. Most likely what Leroux is referring to is her part in the Act III ensemble when she sings “Se inconscia, contro the, sposo, ho peccato” or “If unconscious, against you, husband, I have sinned”.
Roméo et Juliette – Before singing Faust at the managers’ gala, Christine sings “a few passages from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette”. Leroux makes another reference which specifies that one of these passages was final duet as the lovers are dying. She also more than likely sang the Act I aria Je veux vivre, as the optional aria in Act IV would have been too heavy for her voice type.
In Chapter 10, Erik also uses Roméo et Juliette to lure a half-willing Christine away from the masked ball by singing the duet from the wedding night.
Le Roi de Lahore – Although this opera made Jules Massenet a star, it is now a completely forgotten work. In Chapter 1 of The Phantom of the Opera, Joseph Buquet’s body is found hanging from the scenery for Le Roi de Lahore. However, like the entire story, there is much more to this than meets the eye:
Le Roi de Lahore or “The King of Lahore” is a melodramatic tale built out of forbidden love, supernatural beings, and hidden trapdoors. If that on its own doesn’t sound like a Phantom allegory, get this: Lahore is the capital of PUNJAB, Pakistan!
The Resurrection of Lazarus
The Resurrection of Lazarus is almost as important in The Phantom as Faust. The only problem is that no one has any idea what Leroux is talking about. Since every other piece of music in the novel is traceable, it seems unlikely Leroux would have made this one up as a plot device. Franz Schubert’s unfinished cantata Lazarus, or the Celebration of the Resurrection (D. 689) has been presented as a possibility. However this seems unlikely for several reasons:
1. The police report in Chapter 6 as well as Christine’s description in Chapter 13 makes reference to Jesus calling Lazarus from the tomb. Jesus does not play an active role in Schubert’s work
2. Nearly every other piece of music discussed in The Phantom of the Opera was written by a French composer. It seems unlikely Leroux would have departed from this unwritten rule to dredge up an unknown work by an Austrian.
3. If The Resurrection of Lazarus was not written by a Frenchman, it is more likely it was written by some unknown Scandinavian composer. Come to think of it, The Resurrection of Lazarus is really known only by Christine and Raoul, and this because they heard it played by Daddy Daaé. Erik knows it, but he is a musical genius who traveled all over the world. Now, it would probably take both a trip around the world and a séance to figure out what Leroux had in mind.