A few years ago, I was utterly blessed with the chance to see the West End production of Andrew Llyod-Webber’s musical, The Phantom of the Opera. It was honestly the most incredible production I have ever seen and without trying to sound cheesy, it lifted my soul to heights I never knew it could reach. And now, finally, I am able to write about the music of this production in the hopes that it may inspire others to explore the Phantom also. To begin this series, I’m starting with a song that almost any musical theatre lover will recognize in an instant: The Music of the Night. Performed by the Phantom, this is the first moment that we begin to realise his true feelings towards Christine and how she has become the inspiration for all of his music.
There have been numerous wonderful performances of this song done, all of which could bring any person to tears and this makes it even harder to choose one specific performance to write about! Despite this I am inspired to write about the performance by Ramin Karimloo during the 25th Anniversary performance of 2011. If you haven’t treated yourself to anything in a while, I would definitely recommend buying or renting this performance from Amazon, it is beautifully staged and incredibly well acted: certainly worth a few pounds. Karimloo adds an intensity through various subtle details to the Phantom that I have yet to see in any other production and is therefore perfect to use here. Webber’s music calls for the song to ebb and flow, much like a river, from soft to harsh, quiet to loud which allows for the music to really wrap itself around the audience, so that we are just as overwhelmed as Christine by the end of it. The opening lines, despite being so gentle, are so well enunciated by Karimloo that they seem to pierce even the thickest of skulls and embed themselves there for the duration of the song. It’s a brilliant contrast that sets the tone for the rest of the song and is almost symbolic of the Phantoms emotions; his gentle passion for music that is engulfed in the flames of his desire for Christine. As the song continues there is frequent use of sibilance on Webber’s part that makes the music really come alive. There is a wonderful phrase “grasp it, sense it” that practically convinces the audience that the music is a tangible object, almost like a blanket wrapped tightly around them.
Around two minutes in we get this stunning note that cuts through the building music and in the performance there is something nearly sexual the intimacy of the moment. As Karimloo works towards this note his hand pulls an invisible string from Christine’s naval towards her mouth, as though he is releasing her soul in order for it to truly ‘soar’. As he sings this word there is a sense that Christine is experiencing breath-taking euphoria at the hands of the phantom and truthfully in that moment I can’t help but wish I was her! The following line, again, is very quiet as the phantom tells Christine “You’ll live as you’ve never lived before”. Despite his admittedly psychotic behaviour following this, here is a moment in which I kind of wish she had fallen in love with him so that she could experience all of the wonders and freedom he could provide her. Not to mention that he would genuinely appreciate her talents and respect her as an equal (no offence Raoul). Sarah McPartlan commented that Karimloo ‘seems to go for the most power and drama, leaving you in no doubt sure that he can sure belt. That isn’t to say he doesn’t have the dynamics needed for the more tender moments of the song as they are equally as beautiful’ and I have to completely agree. The dynamic that he brings could easily rival that of the original Phantom Michael Crawford, who I am sure some of you are screaming at me to write about (trust me, I’m getting there).
In a similar moment to the one previous, Webber repeats the building music, allowing it to crescendo before completely dropping out so there is only Karimloo’s voice heard. It is a stunning technique however the quiet phrase “only then can you belong to me” that follows adds a slightly sinister quality, hinting to the wavering mental state of the Phantom. The use of “belong” really adds to the unease that the audience feels and is almost better suited to this modern audience full of feminists who would argue Christine doesn’t need to belong to anyone! Then after five minutes of emotional bombardment we reach the moment we never knew we needed until that beautiful final note comes out of the Phantom’s mouth and seems to go on for eternity. It’s quite possibly a form of torture as Webber is suspending us in a place of complete awe and fear of the Phantom that is inescapable. Of course, Crawford’s ability to hold this note for as long as he did has gone down in musical theatre history, but personally as long as it is there I am happy no matter how long for.
‘The Music of the Night’ really puts into perspective the power that music can have over not just one person but an entire audience. The song sets in motion the awe-inspiring dynamics that continue throughout the show between moments of joy and intimacy and moments of fear and anguish. I could easily listen to this song on repeat if it meant that every time I could get the same feeling of elation that I had the first time hearing it. It is in my view a masterpiece of it’s time that has stood steadfast in the winds of change to become a legend of musical theatre