The Phantom of the Opera Musical Australia: Mysterious truth about a megahit musical on its way to Australia

A dramatic, gothic tale of disfigured musical genius obsessed with an innocent ravenous, giant hit show The Phantom of the Opera have packed theater around the world for more than three decades.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber tale is a work of fiction based on the Gaston Leroux book written over 100 years ago, but some tempting parts of the original story are probably inspired by real life.

Not only is there an underground lake under the opera house Palais Garnier in Paris, where the Phantom has its cave, part of a theatrical light actually crashed from a ceiling, tragically killing a protector and perhaps inspiring one of the narrative’s most famous moments.
John Owen-Jones as Phantom Katie Hall as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera in the UK.
John Owen-Jones as Phantom Katie Hall as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera in the UK. (Michael Le Poer Trench)

Guy Simpson is Opera Australia’s musical director and supervisor, and he is involved in two lavish productions of the show Down Under next year.

He admitted that the swirling rumors surrounding the story simply add to the experience.

“I think all of these things lend themselves to being exciting snippets of information that people like to embellish in their minds,” said Mr. Simpson to nine.com.au.

Lake under an opera house

In the show, the Phantom resides in a candle-lit hole on a lake below the Palais Garnier, where he pursues the raven girl, Christine.

In one of the most famous scenes, he rowed Christine across the water and sang the iconic song, The music of the night.

In fact, there really is a lagoon of water under the opera house, which was completed in 1875.

The real water tanks during the Opera Garnier in Paris
The real water tanks during the Opera Garnier in Paris (Google Maps)

The water fills tanks, which were created at the time of construction, when the foundation of the building was flooded by a tributary of the Seine.

These days, they are used to training firefighters.

Dirty water tanks may not be quite as romantic as the show’s gothic lagoon – but with a bit of imagination, it’s not hard to see what might have set Leroux’s imagination in motion.

“It immediately gives a good idea that this guy can live down there and maybe push his boat across the lake,” Mr Simpson said.

One of the most famous scenes in the show is when the menacing Phantom causes a chandelier to crash from the ceiling.

No doubt about Leroux, whose novel The Phantom of the Opera, published in 1910, was inspired by the tragedy of 1896 at the theater.

Interior of the Paris Opera House, France in 1857.
Interior of the Paris Opera House, France in 1857. (Getty)

On May 20, during a performance of an opera called Helle, a fire caused a lighting counterweight to fall and crushed audience member Madame Chomette to death.

A chandelier really fell during an opera.
A chandelier really fell during an opera. (Le Figaro)

There is little doubt that the author heard about the accident. The newspaper he worked for as a journalist wrote about it.

“I think it was decorated for a chandelier,” said Mr. Simpson.

“He was a theater critic and an opera lover, I think. His imagination could run wild.”

And although there is no evidence that a disfigured genius existed, Leroux always insisted that the phantom itself was genuine.

And in fact, an architect who shared the Phantoms’ name – Erik – is rumored to have disappeared, saying he planned to live under the building.

The Phantom of the Opera is now the world’s longest running musical after 35 years.

But Sydney is seeing it in a whole new way.

Australian theater fans can see the performance next year in an unprecedented staging in Sydney Harbor, as well as a separate version inside the iconic Opera House, which will also play in Melbourne.

A former Handa Opera production at Sydney Harbor
A former Handa Opera production at Sydney Harbor (Hamilton Lund / Opera Australia)

Delays due to COVID-19 mean that both shows are now only a few months apart.

Mr. Simpson has been involved in the show since the late 1980s, traveling the world and overseeing productions from South Korea to Brazil.

He refused to reveal exactly how the on-water version will be made – but promised that it would be spectacular.

Phantom of the Opera musical director and conductor, Guy Simpson
Phantom of the Opera musical director and conductor, Guy Simpson (Included)

“It could be releasing too many secrets,” he joked.

Simpson suggested that the production might even bring composer Andrew Lloyd Webber to Australia.

“He loves coming to Australia,” he said.

“I keep hearing these rumors that he might come.”

He said both productions will be a must-see – even for people who are not normally interested in musicals – simply because of the amazing music.

“If you’re going to see a musical in your life, it has to be this one,” he said.

“Audience members like a good tune.

“Boy, this show is completely filled with them.

Actor Josh Piterman will perform in the Phantom of the Opera at the Sydney Opera House.
Actor Josh Piterman will perform in the Phantom of the Opera at the Sydney Opera House. (Sam Mooy)

“And when you add the amplified things of mystery, the melodrama, the romance, it has all these qualities that people find irresistible.”

See The Phantom of the Opera at the Sydney Opera House from August 2022 and the Arts Center Melbourne from October 2022 and at Sydney Harbor at the Handa Opera from March 25 to April 24, 2022. Details: Opera Australia.

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