The Phantom of the Opera is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's greatest and most popular musicals. There have been 65,000 stage performances worldwide with 80 million people seeing this spectacle in person and 24 million copies of the original cast recording. It is strange then that it has taken so long for the film version to appear. The original stage version starred Michael Crawford as the Phantom and Sarah Brightman as Christine and in the late 80s when plans for a film version were first underway, this winning combination were set to repeat their stage roles. But the divorce of Sarah Brightman and Andrew Lloyd Webber had an impact on these plans and the project was put on hold. Remarkably though the project was given a second chance, again under director Joel Schumacher. Casting started in early 2003, with the film ready for general release in time for Christmas 2004.
In case you need reminding, the story is set in a Paris Opera House where Christine's singing is initially over-shadowed by the opera's Prima Donna. The mysterious Phantom is a musical genius who lives beneath the Opera House and hides his disfigured face with a mask. He is attracted by the purity of Christine's voice, coaches her singing and ensures that she is given leading parts in the House's productions. However the Phantom jealously guards his protégé, and is enraged when Raoul is attacted to Christine and tries to woo her. With all these conflicting passions aroused, the situation can only end in tragedy. The setting for this costume musical is lavish and grandiose, with elaborate period costumes and a huge chandelier which plays a key part. But the shadowy presence of the Phantom brings a darker facet to the tale, and this gothic element is perfectly suited to the cathedral sounds of an organ.
Lloyd Webber's vision has transfered well from stage to screen with all the musical numbers remaining intact. With the film having a larger budget and unconstrained by the size of theatres, some of the music has been re-orchestrated for a full symphony orchestra with original orchestrator David Cullen returning to lend his assistance. There are some new scenes providing additional background on the lead characters, and 15 minutes of new music were required to accompany these scenes. You will also hear a nice music box version of "Masquerade". As with the Evita film starring Madonna, there is a new song "Learn to be Lonely" which is performed for the end credits by Minnie Driver. Her part as Carlotta the Prima Donna is sung by Margaret Preece in the film but with this exception, Lloyd Webber's cast sing their own parts and this decision brings power to the story and a momentum to the music. The part of the Phantom is played by Scottish actor Gerard Butler, Christine is played and sung beautifully by the young Emmy Rossum, and Raoul is played by Patrick Wilson. Miranda Richardson also stars as Madame Giry the ballet director and Simon Callow as theater manager André.
Sheet Music from Phantom of the Opera in the form of a piano/vocal songbook is available from The Music Room.
The Deluxe Collector's Edition of the soundtrack comes on a double CD and features all the music tracks and a little movie dialogue to give you a feel for the story. A movie blooklet is also included in the pack, and this edition is available at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.