The Phantom hiding beneath the Phantom

I heard last week that The Phantom of the Opera was closing its Broadway catacombs after thirty-five years and felt sad. I loved the music, the play, and the movies for a long time.

I planned on writing about how, in the early 1990s, I spent an entire Christmas break dousing myself in Calvin Klein’s “Eternity” perfume, reading an abridged version of The Phantom of the Opera while listening to London’s Original cast soundtrack. I was lost in a Gothic Romance set to electric guitars and organ music and, for once, not my depression.

For years, I’d believed that that week, that book, that perfume, and that soundtrack saved my life. It was accurate and told from the long-distance shot of a nostalgic lens, it is still true.

However, preparing to write this commentary, I listened to the same musical soundtrack and felt off-balanced, that my truth was only a glimpse of a big lie. It felt wrong. How had this happened? How had I not seen what this story was really about?

I am usually prepared when I re-read a past favorite novel, taking pains to recognize that I cannot recapture the feeling the book gave me once upon a time and to enjoy it for the moment. For this reason, there are books that I adored as a teenager, like, The Catcher in the Rye, that I refuse to read as an adult to keep past sentiments intact. It didn’t occur to me to approach a soundtrack the same way.

Without seeing Phantom through a pair of inexperienced-Disney-Princess -informed girl glasses, I saw the story through my much more cynical- watched-too-many-newscasts-and-listened-to-too-many-True-Crime-podcasts safety goggles.

Suddenly, The Phantom of the Opera of my teenage years was no longer a romance, but (as most True Crime stories are to women in their forties +) was a P.S.A about an Incel. Think about it!

A man who lives in complete isolation (underneath a Parisian Opera House) believes he is the most talented and crucial person in this world and should be loved on his say-so. He blackmails and sabotages to get his way, which works for a while.

Add to this the grooming of an ingenue, reeling from the loss of her father at a young age, while haunted by his promise of an angel taking her under his wing—Enter the madman sporting half a mask.

The Phantom decides that his obsessing, peeping tom-ing, manipulating, gaslighting, sleep-depriving, and kidnapping is the best way to get Christine to fall in love with him. (Instead of developing something more of himself, learning a hobby, studying how to be a good person, and contributing to society, he blames everyone else, especially those good-looking people hooking up without him. Hint, hint, it is you, not them.) Sigh.

But when it doesn’t work, the Phantom attempts to kill them all and sets the Opera House ablaze—Love me or die isn’t romantic? What? Who knew that obsession, control, and isolation no longer spell out love? Uh, probably most everybody.

Despite all my sarcasm, I feel bad that I accidentally fell out of love this week with The Phantom of the Opera. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I had maintained that bit of dark magic, and I mourn for that smattering of pixie dust that once covered my world.

I don’t know what more I want to say on the subject, except that time is a great equalizer, and hopefully, one day, time’s pendulum will swing back the other way, and I’ll enjoy the play again.

Until then, I’ve been thinking about reading an old classic romance, maybe you’ve heard of it, Lolita?

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