This essay was originally an English project, thought I might share it with you. Many people now the story of the Phantom of the Opera, but is the tale real? Here is my research and my reasoning.
If I am to be saved it is because your love redeems me."
Leave a comment, please. I would love to hear your theories. Any aditional details that I missed would be of great value. Hope you enjoy this!
The Phantom of the Opera, Myth or Reality?
The Phantom of the Opera; a wonderful tale, full of adventure, drama, terror, mystery and romance. A story never fully explained. When named, the Phantom of the Opera will bring many things to our minds. Maybe we will think of the Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber known world-wide, maybe the movie under the Director Joel Schumacher, its soundtrack nominated to an Oscar and some people would think of the book, the original book by Gastón Leroux, where everything started.
It all began in 1909 when Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, was first published as a serialisation in the French newspaper"Le Gaulois. Interestingly enough, the book sold very poorly and was even out of print several times during the twentieth century, meaning that Gastón Leroux stopped printing due to it not being profitable anymore. There are 5 English translations of the book from which the most well-known version is the first one to be published, by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos (1911), thought it sometimes skips entire paragraphs or chapters. But since it was the first translation in English to be published it is often mistaken and republished as an “original” version.
In the story, the Phantom of the Opera (also known as Erik) falls in love with Christine Daaé, a chorister working in the Paris Opera House (opera Populaire). When Christine’s father died, he told her he would send her an Angel of Music to protect her. A little time after she arrives to the Opera, Christine begins to hear a voice that speaks and sings to her. When Christine asks him if he is the angel of music, he answers yes. However, this voice was not an angel but a disfigured man living in the underground cellars he built for himself when he build the Opera House. This man known as the Opera ghost had lived terrorizing people and taking from the Opera’s money for years. Erik secretly teaches Christine "a little bit of heaven's music" and eventually falls in love with her.
At the gala of the old manager’s retirement, Christine performs in front of a mesmerized audience, among whom was Raoul, an old friend from childhood and Christine’s first love, who remembers his love for her hearing her sing. After the gala, prima donna Carlotta plays the lead in the play Faust. The Opera Ghost, irritated at the Opera manager for not permitting him use Box Five, Carlotta loses her voice and the Chandelier collides into the audience creating a great chaos. Erik makes use of the confusion to kidnap Christine. Taking her into his room in the cellars, he confesses his true identity and plans to keep her some days captive in order to make her fall in love with him. Christine slowly starts growing feelings for him until one day, she unmasks him and is terrorized by the sight. The Opera Ghost declares his love for her and tells her he would keep her hostage forever but two weeks later, when Christine asks him to free her, he agrees. However, he makes her promise she would wear his wedding ring and stay always loyal to him.
Later on, Christine tells everything about Erik to Raoul and he promises her to keep her safe where The Ghost will never find her. Christine agrees, but knowing how much misery Erik lives in, she feels for him and decides to leave only after singing one last song to him. Both Christine and Raoul were, however, completely unaware of the utmost jealousy the Phantom felt seeing them together and plans his revenge for Raoul and Christine for betraying him and breaking her promise. During the following night, the Phantom kidnaps Christine again and tries to push her into marriage threatening he would destroy the Opera House with everyone in it, killing them both too. Christine refuses but then she notices Raoul and Erik’s old friend (known in the story as “the Persian”, have been entrapped while trying to save her. Christine kisses Erik and agrees to marry him. Erik breaks down into tears admitting that he never received a kiss from anyone, not even his own mother and lets her go telling her to marry Raoul. Erik tells all his secrets to his old colleague, The Persian, and asks him to announce his death on the newspaper, and so he does.
This is what the Phantom of the Opera is: a story of love, adventure, beauty and tragedy. In any form of art that this story is told by, the Phantom of the opera is truly a magnificent story. However, many people have come to think that this story was real and, on the other hand, many people believe that Gastón Leroux wrote the novel based on an urban legend and that the Phantom of the Opera never existed. What is the real answer? No one really knows. However there are certain facts that may help us understand everything better.
Who’s the man behind the mask? A writer, a musician, an arquitect, an artist, a poet, a magician, a genius… or just plain fiction? In the opening of the novel, Leroux claims that Erik, the man known as the “Phantom of the Opera” was a real person, a valid reason to believe that Gaston Leroux did not create the character but based it off an existent person. No one really knows much about him, research is still being done, everything still being a mystery. However, we can find a lot of information about the phantom in Renata de Waele’s relate, published in 1993, in the Journal Illustre of Café de la Paix. Renata de Waele worked as Public Relations at the Opera Garnier for a long time. She explains much about his childhood and what he did until he grew up and built the Opera.
According to Renata de Waele, Erik was born in a small village in Normandy, near Rouen. At that time, disfigured people didn’t use their names at all, so they were not registered, one of the many reasons why information related to the Phantom’s childhood is so difficult to find. The novel describes him as a “corpse-like” being with no nose, sunken eyes, yellow skin and only some strands of ink black hair. Christine describes his cold hands and he is sometimes described as a “walking skeleton”. His parents abandoned him when he was eight and he was left by himself, homeless until the circus came and captured him. Erik was used as an attraction for visitors and exposed as a “Phenomenon”. He lived in the circus for seven years until he finally escaped and run to Persia, or what is nowadays Iran, where he worked as an entertainer for the Shah. Later, Erik started working as an architect’s assistant specialist in harems and therefore acquired widespread understanding in architecture. Many years after living in Persia and after becoming more skilled at structural design and building, he gained the enough confidence to be able to go back to France.
When Erik returned to Paris, the building of a new Opera House was the main subject of conversation and he felt curious about it so he decided to meet Charles Garnier and offer him his services for the new Opera House. It was not only because of Erik’s courage, due to the misery and misfortune he knew he had been living in, but also because of his great professionalism, that Charles Garnier was very impressed. So impressed, that he signed him up as a contractor right away. Using his newly acquired knowledge and lots of hours of hard work, up to twelve hours a day, he helped to build the wonderful Opera Garnier, still existent nowadays, a work he considered his as well.
The little deformed kid had turned into a completely different person from the one that had left France running away from the laughs and disgusted looks from visitors in the Circus. He had become a gentleman. He wore a mask to hide his deformed and irregular face. “He also wore a dress suit, a cloak and a large felt hat,” tells Renata de Waele. He was now an educated and respected man that had now enough money to fend for himself. And, though so many years of cruelty and loneliness had made him nurse blackness in his heart that made him cold as ice he still couldn’t help from falling in love.
Erik was seen several times in box five, his personal box in the Opera House. There, he saw a singer-in Leroux’s novel her name was Christine Daae, though he changed all the names in his story-and fell in love with her, so in love he kidnapped her after the show. Christine was not found for three weeks. After that, she left him. “Desperate and heartbroken, Erik walled the door of the apartment and died there (…) Gastón Leroux was inspired by this facts to write his novel” sais Renata.
Years later, a new Opera House was built, the Opera Bastille, and the Palais Garnier stopped playing opera so often, therefore evolved a research for a lace to build a strongroom. When a wall in the cellars of the Opera Garnier was demolished a small apartment appeared before the workers eyes. “It was fully furnished and equipped. It appeared to have been abandoned a long time ago”. This room, with no visible entrances anywhere was understood to be used by men working on the construction of the Opera and the decision was made to throw everything away but during the construction of the strongroom, a corpse was found, “the corpse of a man with completely asymmetrical features.” This corpse, assumed to be Erik’s, known by that time as The Phantom of the Opera, was wearing a golden ring with the initials C.D. (presumed to be the initials for Christine Daae). The apartment found in the cellars must have been something he built for himself while working on the Opera.
Some of the details included in Renata de Waele’s narrative are proved facts. Others, however, are still waiting to be verified. From this relate we can reach our own conclusions or try further research and investigate more details about the corpse and the room that was found but, to me, Renata de Waele’s tale makes perfect sense. Her narrative is more realistic and believable than Gaston Leroux novel, obviously, because a simple report of what was found and discovered wouldn’t be interesting enough for the book to sell and some romance and mystery to it would make it a more interesting story, as it is beautiful and heartbreaking. Of course there are some things about Erik we will never know but, in my opinion, we don’t need to learn more. If we were to know everything about it there will be no more mystery to it, and that is what makes the story special and beautiful.
However, the chorister known to everyone as Christine Daae is ironically more of a mystery than the Phantom of the Opera. Several people have reached the conclusion that Christine Daae could’ve been a character based on a real Swedish soprano called Kristina Nilsson (a.k.a. Christina Nilsson or Christine Nilsson). This idea was formed by many biographical similarities researchers have found between both figures. However, the idea that the character was in fact the “same” person as Nilsson is not confirmed by any official source. We can still examine the similarities between them and how Gastón Leroux could’ve based Christine Daae’s character off her.
Nilsson’s real name was Kristina Jonasdotter and she was born on August 20, 1843 on the south of Sweden. She was taught how to play the violin by her older brother, which she later used to gain money for her poor family playing in the streets. Years later, when she was fourteen, a politician adopted her after hearing her play. Her voice potential was later discovered while in her music class. Then, she was sent to Stockholm and afterwards to Paris to continue her lessons. She also started singing at concerts and after her musical career launched she started singing her name as “Christine Nilsson”. According to several historians, Nilsson’s voice had a vocal range from G3 to F6. She is also described as “a beautiful woman with a lovely figure and clear blue eyes”. Christine Nilsson’s first performance in Paris was in 1864. She returned to Paris quite a lot of times until her retirement in 1888. Gaston Leroux lived from 1868 to 1927 so it’s very likely that he heard her sing more than once since she was a very popular singer at that time.
The similarities between Gastón Leroux’s Christine and Christine Nilsson are staggering. Both played the violin when they were kids and where born Swedish but later moved to Paris. In the novel, Christine’s voice is discovered almost by accident by her teacher Valerius. Nilsson’s voice was also discovered unintentionally while she was taking violin lessons. Both where adopted: Nilsson by a local politician and Daae by an old friend of the family when she was left an orphan. During Nilsson’s professional life, she had to fight with another singer called Adelina Patti. They sang the same repertoire, had the same age and were both very popular. Patti, however, had been famous for much longer and had an endless number of loyal, almost fanatical, fans. These events remind us of la Carlotta, notorious soprano in the Opera Populaire, whose fights with Christine are inevitable. Both Nilsson and Daae had to fight with much recognized and professional singers to be able to reach for their dream. Nilsson’s physical appearance, as it is described, is also comparable to Daae’s.
As you can see, the similarities between both figures are quite impressive. Without a doubt, Gastón Leroux had to hear Nilsson sing at least once, and had to do a lot of research afterwards about her childhood and professional life to build a character so alike to Nilsson.
Since, Gastón Leroux was an investigative journalist, we can be sure that he researched and investigated all he could about Eric and the Opera House in order to write the story with as much realistic details as possible. Also, Leroux wrote a report 15 years before he published the novel, in which he insisted that the Phantom was real and the story is written as a true narrative. Leroux’s diaries are also supposed to exist, and people say details about the process and how he created the characters are present in the record. However, if they exist, they have not been published.
As said before, Christine Daae’s character was based on Christine Nilsson and The Phantom, Erik, was an existent person. Most of the characters are based on real people. Carlotta’s character is believed to be based on a real person called Mlle. Carvalho and research has found that there actually existed a Chagny family. The names of the family members, such as Raoul’s mother, Mme de La Martinière, prove that Leroux was referencing them.
Also, several events that appear on the novel are based or inspired on real events. In the novel, Erik makes the Chandelier of the Opera House plummet into the audience and makes use of the confusion to kidnap Christine. There have been reports that pronounce the counterweight of the chandelier once fell, lighting the Opera House on fire and killing a woman. No one knows, yet, if this was just an incident or if there was someone behind it. The famous box five, from which Erik watched the operas also exists, and there is apparently a hollow column next to it which the Phantom could use to go to his box without anyone seeing him. This is, as far as I know, a rumour, but if it where to be real, it will mean the story was probably true and there once was someone living secretly in the Opera. When people would go to box five, they would hear “ghostly” voices but would see no one. There have always been stories of a spectre running around the Opera Garnier and people who had affirmed seeing him said he wore a ling black cape and a mask.
Another fact that is quite stirring is that whenever the employees of the Opera Garnier are asked something related to the Phantom or Erik, they would say nothing. However, one member of the staff once declared a house and a skeleton with a golden wedding ring was found in the subterranean tunnels of the opera early in the 20th century. Nonetheless, the fact that this skeleton was Erik’s or that there was an actual skeleton found is debatable.
As we have seen, the Phantom of the Opera, or Erik, did exist in real life. He was born with a deformed face, abandoned by his parents and captured by the circus. After years of being laughed at he ran away to Persia and became an architect’s assistant gaining a distinguished knowledge and returned to Paris to offer his services to Charles Garnier. Once the opera was built he knew a beautiful singer who he fell in love with and kidnapped her but died of loneliness little after she left him. The woman he fell in love with known as Christine was based off the Swedish soprano Christine Nilsson, with who she shares a lot of similarities with, though it is discarded that Nilsson and Erik ever knew each other. There are also many other facts that make the story believable: such as declarations from people working in the Opera, historical incidents happening during the shows, reports written by many researches and the believed diaries of Leroux.
Nevertheless, the story of the Phantom of the opera is still a mystery to us. Research is still being done and more secrets are being discovered with time, thought there is not much more to discover. In my opinion, there are some things, no one would ever know, and, in a way, I’m happy of it. The story of the Phantom is full of mystery and that’s what makes it special, the fact that no one really knows what is true and what isn’t. If we where to discover everything having to do with Erik, or “Christine” or anything related to the story, all the interest would be gone. What keeps this story alive are the legends and stories people tell, and our imagination that always sees things where there isn’t anything. Even if we are completely wrong in our theories, the story is still a wonderful piece of art; romantic, thrilling, heartbreaking and just plain beautiful. So, if we have to wait forever to know who “the ghost” was, we will wait.
The Angel of Music will always be with us.
I also used some details mentioned in the book “El Violín Negro” (The Black Violin) by Sandra Andres Belenguer and knowdlege I had already acquired from previous research.
My dream: to someday visit the Garnier Opera. Ironically, I have been to Paris over 12 times and Ive NEVER visited it... next time, I swear I will go. :P