Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 15 November 2019

Is the 'Phantom of the Opera' relevant in the #MeToo era?

Claire Lyon, who will play Christine Daae when the musical comes to Dubai Opera, debates whether the tale highlights true love or good example of Stockholm Syndrome

'Phantom of the Opera' is based on the stormy relationship between the title character and his protege Christine Daae. Courtesy Dubai Opera
'Phantom of the Opera' is based on the stormy relationship between the title character and his protege Christine Daae. Courtesy Dubai Opera

If you are fan of musicals, then The Phantom of the Opera has all you need. There is a love triangle, mischievous humour and some violence that’s delivered through a luscious set and a vivid score full of stirring and recognisable songs.

However, despite its enduring popularity, does Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical fall flat in the face of today’s social expectations? That question has cropped up of late, with the musical having been an international touring phenomenon for more than 30 years.

The chief concern surrounds Christine Daae, the female protagonist in the musical. With the plot set in the early 19th century, the story begins with Daae trying to make a name for herself as a young soprano in an established Parisian opera house. As her star rises, we realise it is down to her tutelage by the Phantom, a menacing and shadowy figure who lives in a secret lair within the opera house.

It is from here that the musical takes flight; the chemistry between both characters and their duets result in the production’s emotional high points.

But at what cost? In the present climate, one in which women have heroically claimed the rights and dignity that were long denied to them in various fields, does Daae’s complex relationship with the Phantom fly in the face of such advancements? Is their fateful kiss a show of true love or a good example of Stockholm Syndrome?

From naivety to strength

Claire Lyon, who will take on the role of Daae when the musical comes to Dubai Opera for a three-week run from Wednesday, October 16, tells The National that context is key when analysing The Phantom of the Opera.

“What we must remember when seeing the show is that it is not set in modern times,” says the Australian soprano. “It is set prior to the #MeToo movement – it is the 19th century and at the time women had a place in the home. And in the case of Daae, she is a ballet dancer and she doesn’t have the support of her father any more.”

That said, Lyon is adamant that Daae’s character remains relevant today.

“Her relationship with the Phantom is quite unusual because it is somewhat fatherly and there is also a romantic nature to it,” she says. “And he does in a way take advantage of her, but as the show progresses she becomes a woman in her own right and makes her own decisions. While it does start off with her as victim, she does stand on her own two feet by the end of the show.”

Back to the fold

Daae is a character that Lyon knows well. The renowned singer, who has toured internationally in a variety of musicals such as Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Pirates of Penzance, will reprise the role she held during a world tour of The Phantom of the Opera between 2012 and 2015. The production is so immense, she says, that once you have performed the musical, the role never leaves you.

“The last time I did The Phantom was for two-and-a-half years, and that was four-and-a-half years ago,” she says. “When you are doing it for that long it almost becomes part of your muscle memory. So if you are going to do it again it is really about getting that movement and those songs back into my voice.”

Australian actress Clare Lyon plays the role of Christine Daaé in Phantom of the Opera, a young soprano in search of her place in a famed Parisien opera house. Courtesy: Dubai Opera
Australian actress Clare Lyon plays the role of Christine Daae in the 'Phantom of the Opera', a young soprano in search of her place in a famed Parisien opera house. Courtesy Dubai Opera

And that is what Lyon has been doing as she prepares for the rest of the production’s world tour. This includes intensive rehearsals and vocal exercises as she ­gradually inserts herself into a seasoned cast that has been performing the show throughout the year. “When that happens it is a case of me feeding off their energy and vice versa,” she says.

That chemistry will be most apparent when she is on the stage with South African actor Jonathan Roxmouth, who is simply superb as the Phantom. This will be the first time in more than five years that both actors have starred together in The Phantom of the Opera.

“We did a show in the Philippines and that was a great experience. Jonathan and I will again work together and feed off our energies,” Lyon says. “It won’t be like a movie in which the show will be the same every night. That’s why people come back again and again to see live theatre, because it will be different every time. And for me that depends on what I am feeling that day. If something happened to me and I feel very emotional, that will definitely come out in my performance.”

The Phantom of the Opera will run at Dubai Opera from Wednesday, October 16, until Wednesday, November 6. Tickets from Dh250 are available at www.dubaiopera.com

Updated: September 10, 2019 01:18 PM

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