"Christine...Christine" : A Different Perspective on 'Phantom of the Opera'
When looking at some of our favorite shows through the eyes of different characters, perspectives can change, plots can shift and what might be comedy could become far darker. In the past, we've looked at shows such as Oklahoma!, Grease, Beauty & the Beast and Carousel. Today, we dip into another fan favorite, The Phantom of the Opera.
Now while many call it the greatest love story in musical theatre history, when we look at the piece through the eyes of Christine Daae, it's not much of a love story at all....and there's a sequel.
Let's dig in. Obvious spoilers ahead.
When we first meet Christine, she is a young chorus girl at the Paris Opera House. After a rehearsal incident involving the "Phantom of the Opera", the resident diva quits the show and storms off stage. Christine is then thrust into the lead role by the Opéra's ballet mistress after the owners are told she's been "well taught".
After her triumphant performance, she admits to her friend, Meg Giry, that she has been tutored by her "Angel of Music", a figure that her sick father often said would help Christine after his death. After being visited by her childhood friend, Raoul, she is then visited by the jealous/possessive Phantom.
Now here is where Christine's ordeal begins. She is essentially kidnapped by the Phantom and taken to his underground lair. When they arrive, the Phantom shows Christine a mannequin resembling herself in a wedding dress, and she faints. The Phantom picks her up and places her on a bed.
Okay, let's break a couple things down here. To begin with, it's very clear that the Phantom has been manipulating an impressionable young girl by exploiting the words of her dead father. How young is this girl? Well, that's up for debate. The original novel hints that she's around 15-16 years old, but this is often misconstrued because the passage that describes her heart "as pure as that of a 15-year-old".
However based on her childhood friendship with Raoul, assuming they're the same age, that would put her around 20. But, in the movie version, based on the dates shown on her gravestone, the events of the show would have occurred when she was 15 to 16. Since that occurred in Webber's version, it's fair to say that he intended her to be that age. However most women who play the role, are in their low to mid-20's(Sarah Brightman - 25, Sierra Boggess - 24), so we can certainly say that Christine is in the 15-20 age range.
In the same regard, due to the Phantom's childhood connection with Madame Giry, it's also safe to say that the Phantom is at least 15-20 years older than Christine.
So to recap, a 30-40-year-old man has been preying upon a 15-20-year-old girl, kidnaps her and reveals a twisted scenario of secretly marrying her. Keep in mind we're only about 20 minutes into the show and this isn't even the worst of it.
After threatening the theatre owners with disastrous harm if Christine is not given the lead in the next opera, the owners decide to stick with their resident diva, Carlotta. This results in the Phantom killing the stagehand, Buquet.
During the ensuing melee, Christine and Raoul escape to the roof where she tells him about the Phantom and rather than taking her fears seriously, Raoul professes his love for her. If we play out this conversation in other terms, it basically goes like this:
Christine: "A man kidnapped me, revealed his plan to marry me, used threats to get me a lead role and killed an innocent bystander."
Raoul: "Oh you silly girl. Let me take advantage of your vulnerability to tell you that I love you."
The Phantom overhears this exchange and in a jealous rage, vows to take revenge on Raoul and destroys the opera house chandelier.
In Act 2, the Phantom once again threatens harm if his opera isn't performed with Christine in the lead role. Trying to seek some solace, Christine visits her father's grave where the Phantom is there and once again tries to kidnap her only to have Raoul(now believing in the Phantom's existence) rescue her.
After performing his opera, Christine rips off his mask to the audience, starting another melee where the Phantom kidnaps Christine again and it's revealed that he's killed another person, this time it's opera singer, Piangi.
When Raoul arrives at the lair, Christine is wearing the mannequin's wedding dress. The Phantom seizes Raoul and forces Christine to choose between them or Raoul dies. Between the Phantom's proposal and Raoul's condescending rooftop love profession, I'll take Raoul's.
After Christine kisses the Phantom, he realizes that he can never compel her to love him(Duh!), and releases them both.
So just to catch you up, throughout the entire show. Christine has been preyed upon, kidnapped twice, saw two people killed by the man who claims he loves her and threatened with the death of a third unless she marries an obsessive, homicidal stalker.
To make matters worse, the show goes out of its way to defend the Phantom's actions and portray him as a heartbroken man who gets away.
Now all of this would be quite the ordeal for any character but Webber wasn't done torturing Christine, he wrote a sequel....
While opinion on the overall quality of Love Never Dies varies, it can't be denied that the piece sets out to show that Christine just can't get a win.
The show opens 10 years after the events of Phantom. Christine, Raoul, and their ten-year-old son, Gustave, arrive in New York for her to sing at Oscar Hammerstein's new opera house. It's revealed that she's doing this because they're essentially broke due to Raoul's gambling, drinking, and poor business decisions. So the man who she chose over the homicidal, obsessive maniac has put her in financial ruin.
After Raoul leaves to go drinking, the Phantom reveals himself to Christine and she once again faints. When she wakes up, they recall a night of passion they had right before she married Raoul with the song "Beneath a Moonless Sky."
Now, what is important to mention here how the song sets this encounter. It states how it's, Christine who found the Phantom which leads to an intimate encounter which then resulted in the birth of Gustave. So Webber is basically stating that even after the Phantom stalked her, kidnapped her, murdered two people and attempted to kill her eventual husband, that she still inexplicably still had enough feelings for the Phantom to seek him out mere weeks/months after the lair incident and have sex with him. How this makes sense is beyond me.
Later on in Act 2, after Christine sings, she finds a letter informing her that Raoul has left her. What she doesn't know is that the Phantom and Raoul make a bet that if Christine sings, the Phantom wins and if she doesn't, Raoul wins. If Raoul wins the bet, the Phantom will pay his debts and Raoul can leave with Christine and Gustave. However, if The Phantom wins, Christine and Gustave will remain in America with him and Raoul must return to Paris alone.
Gustave is then kidnapped by Meg Giry, due to her jealousy of the Phantom's affections for Christine and she attempts to drown him. After sharing her feelings, Meg decides to let Gustave live and releases him. She produces a gun and holds it to her head, intent on ending her misery. The Phantom tries to apologize and console her, but when he unthinkingly mentions Christine's name, Meg becomes agitated once again. When the Phantom tries to take the gun from her, Meg accidentally shoots Christine.
As Christine is dying, she tells Gustave that his real father is the Phantom which causes Gustave let loose a Luke Skywalker "Nooo!!" and run away. She then professes her never-ending love for the Phantom(How is this possible?!?!)and dies.
Curtain. And so ends the relentless emotional pounding of Christine Daae.
If we look at the overall arc of Christine's life, tell me where you find any positivity: Her father dies when she is a child. She is then preyed upon and essentially groomed by a man almost twice her age. She's portrayed as a weak enough woman that she returns to her homicidal stalker killer to have sex with him, only to have the man she chooses to marry turns out to be an alcoholic, gambling addicted jerk who puts her in financial ruin. Then she is deserted by this man for reasons she doesn't know, has her son kidnapped and then is shot to death.
Now you could say that Gustave is the one positive element in her life, I would agree with that. So it's even more unfair that in her dying moments, Webber decides to have Gustave abandon Christine upon hearing that the Phantom is his father. So Christine is unable to see the one positive element in her life before she dies. If that's not cruel, I don't know what is.
But let's go back to the consummation of the Phantom and Christine's relationship. The scenario for Christine to return to the Phantom is ridiculous enough, but had it not been for that night, if you look at the events of Phantom, the only moment where an encounter like that could occur would be after Christine faints when seeing the wedding dress mannequin, which means the Phantom raped her while she was unconscious. So I guess, next to that, portraying Christine as a Stockholm Syndrome victim is the better option. Talk about the lesser of two evils.
It's clear that with the existence of Gustave and this song, that Webber and others had trouble finding where an intimate encounter would make sense when all the while, it doesn't.
After the death of her father, the path and decisions of Christine Daae's life are decided by men. Over the course of two shows, she rarely gets any moments to show strength and when she does, it only serves the interests of the men around her. Webber constantly has her playing the victim. If anything, it should be the Phantom dying on a Coney Island pier, not Christine.
Many believe that this is one of musical theatre's great love stories, but my question is, how? If anything it's psychological manipulated love since the only rational time where Christine could have fallen for the Phantom is when he was exploiting her beliefs in the Angel of Music. Think about it, after the end of Act 1 in Phantom, where does Christine fall in love with the Phantom? She's terrified of him in the beginning of Act 2 and hates his by the end of the show. Yet, inexplicably we're led to believe that she just can't quit the Phantom. It just doesn't make sense. I would compare it to Carousel when questioning where exactly does Julie Jordan fall in love with Billy?
You could say that the depiction of Christine was based on a show that was written 30 years ago when characterizations of females were different and that the show is based in the 1870's when female characterizations were even more different. Which would be fine, except that nowhere in the show is Christine's abuse based on the social status of women in the 1980's or the 1870's. Also, keep in mind that her continued abuse occurs in a musical that was written in the 21st Century. So we can toss that argument out the window.
One doesn't have to look deep or twist the material to show that Christine Daae is probably the most unfairly treated characters in musical theatre.
So if you ever find a moment, stop and think of Christine Daae fondly, because it's clear that Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn't.
Photo: Tim Martin Gleason as the Phantom and Trista Moldovan as Christine Daae (Photo by Joan Marcus)