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The Phantom of the Opera

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  • Noel Vera
    The muzak of the night By Noel Vera To Lord Lloyd Weber and Monsieur Schumacher; I need no introduction. You may have trouble believing it is me truly writing;
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 17, 2005
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      The muzak of the night

      By Noel Vera

      To Lord Lloyd Weber and Monsieur Schumacher;

      I need no introduction. You may have trouble believing it is me
      truly writing; let me say by way of explanation that it is amazing
      what a regular diet of herbal tea and judicious application of Botox
      can do to improve the looks and preserve the health of one (I
      sometimes even walk about in the streets sans mask).

      Nevertheless! I have matters of importance to tell you: listen or
      fail to listen at your peril.

      "Le fantôme de l'opéra," Gaston Leroux's classic tribute to myself,
      is admirable mainly for arousing interest in my career as architect
      and enthusiast of music, less admirable for the attention it focuses
      on activities I engaged in during the course of that same career--
      the disposal of a frog-voiced soprano or troublesome stagehand, for
      example, or the casting of a talented newcomer, or the building of
      various trapdoors and devices for my amusement. We do what we must,
      it is said, and if there are those who find my methods to procure
      desired results extreme, my reply would be that they do not possess
      the desire sufficient to do the same as I.

      Still, as the saying goes, attention itself is desirable, whether
      complimentary or otherwise; Leroux's novel, published in 1911, was
      not an instant success, but this did not bother Leroux--he was
      already planning his next book. It was a fortune most beneficial
      that the great Lon Chaney chose to transform the novel into an
      extravagant and beautiful motion picture in 1924, and it is the
      success of the Chaney production that ensured the story's
      immortality. Chaney has captured my essence best: a fierceness of
      profile even without the effective makeup that masks a passion for
      drama and beauty, and a most tender vulnerability.

      Many versions have followed, of varying quality. Then you, my dear
      Lord Lloyd Weber, presented your version--first in London, then in a
      famous broad street in America. I had heard of its success, of
      course, and resolved to see its premiere; imagine my dismay, that my
      story would be the occasion for vulgar costumes and oversized sets,
      and the thin singing of puerile lyrics set to melodies stolen from
      Puccini (one of my few equals) repeated over and over again! I was
      horrified. Here, I thought, was a crime to overshadow any mere
      murder I am accused of committing, for if I merely kill the soul of
      a single man, you killed the soul of my music--the soul of music
      itself. What you play in your so-called "musical" is not music,
      exactly, but a relentless drone accompanied by the artificial
      imitation of drums (created, I believe, by craftsmen from distant
      Japan). I have most often found this music playing within those
      diabolical devices called elevators--tiny, confined spaces where you
      cannot escape the excruciating noise. And they say I have a talent
      for torture--!

      I had heard of a motion-picture production of the play, but that was
      years ago. I also heard that filmmaker Shekar Kapur was to direct,
      and thought to myself: would that not be an idea most interesting?
      The artists of India are the few filmmakers left that create
      musicals of any sincerity and passion (yes, as you may have noticed,
      I have kept abreast of the culture of today). Then I had heard that
      you, Monsieur Schumacher, were to direct instead; unfamiliar as I
      was with your works, I decided to grant you the benefit of doubt.

      Alas, what is this monstrosity I see before me? Where Lord Lloyd
      Weber erected sets most notable for their size and tastelessness,
      you have erected sets of greater size and even less taste (Were you
      not a set decorator early in your career? Did you become director
      because you were even less competent in this position?). Where Lord
      Lloyd Weber cast milk-blooded ingénues instead of true singers to
      play my immortal Christine, you have cast a pretty doll with pretty
      voice who cannot act worth merde (pardon my English). Finally, while
      the noble Chaney incarnated me with passionate gusto, and Lord Lloyd
      Weber cast a competent actor-singer to play me in his production,
      you have chosen some model from--what is the name of that place
      again?-- Chippendale's. He is good-looking, Monsieur, and appears to
      have been lifting weights, but he is not me; I know the power of my
      own visage, and frankly his bland handsomeness offends me.

      But ah, Monsieur Shoe-maker (for that is all you are fit for)
      perhaps your greatest sin is not insufficient respect towards me,
      but a surfeit of respect towards Lord Lloyd Weber's travesty. For if
      his abortion of a musical were ever to be translated to the silver
      screen, I believe the only proper treatment would have been a
      parody, a spoof--a way to, how do you Americans say this--"send it
      up" or "trash it," or "give it the treatment it deserves"
      (filmmakers such as John Waters or perhaps the Farrelly Brothers
      would have done more appropriate work). You accomplish this in
      perhaps one scene--when Mademoiselle Minnie Driver, who plays the
      silly Carlota, is wooed into singing for the opening performance.
      There is the suggestion of play in that sequence, of undercutting
      the dignity of all involved, up to the hairpiece Mademoiselle Driver
      wears that clambers up to the point of ludicrousness. In that one
      sequence you have achieved a unity of method and meaning that you
      fail to achieve anywhere else in your production, and it sings with
      comic brio.

      The tone otherwise is of worshipful seriousness, so that all
      possibility of grace, lightness and entertainment is choked off.
      Where Lord Lloyd Weber creates melodrama, you attempt to elevate it
      into high drama; where Lord Lloyd Weber reaches for tragedy and in
      the attempt falls flat on his face, you lift him up and toss him,
      head over heels, from an even greater height. Even so, you do not
      have the full courage of your own shamelessness, for I know exactly
      your motive for moving the chandelier's fall from the first half of
      the story towards the end: Leroux wished to show my low regard for
      common human life (and on this point I do not disagree with him),
      confident that he had in store more than enough drama to hold the
      reader's attention for the remainder of his novel; you, however,
      knew that by picture's end your so-called lovers would have put the
      audience to sleep, so you decided to give them a pick-me-up.

      Even so a chandelier's fall, no matter how large or brilliant the
      chandelier or how spectacular its fall, was not enough for you--you
      had to let it swing like an overflowing colostomy bag, to fall
      harmlessly into the orchestra pit. Heaven forbid that the Phantom
      should be shown killing innocent bystanders, or those not previously
      shown to be deserving of their fate, though in truth I regard most
      men as less than cattle, to be treated accordingly. But Lord Lloyd
      Weber would prefer to have me emasculated--rendered 'nice' and fit
      for falling in love with--and you would follow his kitschy whim. Not
      for you the heights of madness or the pits of despair: more like the
      second floor of nuttiness and the first basement level of
      depression. It is not the fact that you whore that is so galling;
      it's the fact that you whore so feebly.

      So what now? What punishment befits you both that I, with my
      reputation for ghastly vengeance, can bestow? Lord Lloyd Weber I
      will deal with shortly--it pleases me to spare him the details,
      except that they involve a padded room with speakers, and a CD
      player filled with all his recorded works, playing full volume in an
      endless loop. Monsieur Shoemaker, your destiny I believe should be
      something more special, as befits a piece of dung that, when dropped
      in water, still manages to rise, and this is what I will do:
      nothing. I will leave you as you are, a mediocre director of
      mediocre talent, for the rest of your life doomed to create
      mediocrities that earn the scorn and laughter of critics everywhere.
      I can think of no more cruel fate.

      Ever your humble servant,


      (First published in Businessworld, 2/11/05)

      (Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)
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