Love Never Dies (or is Only Mostly Dead): A Eulogy

“I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him…”

Last Friday I received some stunning news; on June 17th, it was announced to the world that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ill-conceived sequel to his masterpiece The Phantom of the Opera was closing its doors for good in August of this year. This gave me a joy one can only describe as Schadenfreude, a delightful Germanic concept that means “deriving pleasure from the misfortunes of others”. This would be the second time in a week I would experience such sadistic enjoyment, the first being when my Dallas Mavericks demonstrated what they thought of LeBron James’ taking of his talents to South Beach. But I digress.*

You might gather from my language that I have a deep fondness for the Phantom in its original theatrical form. That would be the understatement of the century. In no uncertain terms, the Phantom of the Opera, in all of its myriad forms, has been an obsession of mine since I was a young girl and old enough to understand the complexity of its emotional landscape. From the moment I first heard the opening chords of the overture, I was lost. Hours later, I was both lost and found; lost in its spell and overwhelming emotion, and found in the sense that a lush world of supernatural, romantic, even baroque artistry had been revealed. As melodramatic as it seems, I was never quite the same again.

Like Christine, I reveled in the contrast of darkness and light, and discovered myself somewhere in between. After falling in love with the musical, I devoured the original text in both English and French, and opened my mind to other musical and dramatic interpretations of the narrative. Some were excellent (Lon Chaney’s 1925 silent movie), some were not (Freddy Krueger as the Phantom?), and some were downright absurd (Phantom of the Megaplex, I’m looking at you!). Somehow, I didn’t mind these varying interpretations of the original, no matter how much they strayed from the canon. They each had their merit and were easily compartmentalized as a unique part of the Phantom universe. All well and good. Until 1999. Continue reading

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On the Sublime

“But his voice filled my spirit with a strange, sweet sound. In that night there was music in my mind. And through music my soul began to soar! And I heard like I’ve never heard before…”

Last night, I had a rare opportunity to witness what people may call the sublime.  Per Wikipedia, “[i]n aesthetics, the sublime (from the Latin sublīmis) is the quality of greatness, whether physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual or artistic. The term especially refers to a greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation.” While I’m prone to hyperbole on occasion (in fact, I rather enjoy it most of the time), I do believe that I did, in fact, serve witness to true operatic greatness last night at the Kennedy Center, where I saw Plácido Domingo perform Oreste in Iphigenie en Tauride.

I know, Dear Reader, that I needn’t waste your time telling you that a man who’s had such a famously vast and storied career (134 roles, 3,500+ performances, 12 Grammy’s, 2 Emmy’s, and a partridge in a pear tree) is “great”.  Yet I believe there is a true disconnect between accepting that a person is great at face-value, and truly understanding it beyond the celebrity hype machine and reviews of trusted critics and scholars. I’ve known for more than 20 years that this man has a gift, a talent far beyond those of his peers. There’s a reason why he was part of The Three Tenors, a group famous for being the best of the best. Even so, I didn’t expect to come away from this performance with the insight into the man and his gift that I feel I now have.

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