The Phantom of the Opera in Gothenburg

We were at the Gothenburg Opera and saw its production of The Phantom of the Opera. I’ve been there a few times before. Saw the Opera Goya in 2009 which was a newly written opera about the Spanish painter Francesco Goya. Written by the Gothenburg-based composer Daniel Börtz. With excellent scenography the production gave full justice to the Spanish artist’s specific sense of colour, whereas music and action did not reach the same fullness of expression. I saw Alcina, spring 2011, where the scenography was extremely sparse, allowing space for the music and dramaturgy to create an overall story that was touching to the heart. In the fall of 2012 I saw Antonin Dvorak’s opera Rusalka. In the Gothenburg version of this a story about two women’s different power of attraction, there was an imbalance in the use of the dramatic effect of the choirs, which meant that the main character Rusalka never reached the same credibility in her tranquil appeal as the Princess, her fullblooded rival.

Ensemble – photo: Mats Bäcker
Fred Johanson and Frida Engström (The Phantom och Christine) – photo: Mats Bäcker
John Martin Bengtsson (Raoul) – photo: Mats Bäcker

The Phantom of the Opera is a musical. It mixes the specific expressions opera, such as solo arias and powerful choir passages with songs that come close to the schlager genre. Let me first of all say that we were genuinely touched. In the first act, we both saw Christine as the protagonist. Christine, who was the novelist’s portrait of the young poor Swedish country girl and street singer Christina Nilsson and her fabulous career on the opra scenes of the world, starting in Paris.

Through her character, we saw The Phantom. There was her passion, sexuality, creativity. While inspiring her song and her artistic genius, there was also a threatening madness in his attraction. Against this, her lover Raoul represented her wish for an organized life as a celebrated singer with a family and a career. With Raoul there was a hope of everyday happiness, but also the threat of losing the source of her creativity. What touched us was the conflict between these two drives in her life and her struggle to have and cherish both.

The musical The Phantom of the Opera was first produced in the late 1980s for London’s West End and was played on Broadway with 10,000 performances between 1988 and 2012. With this incredible audience success in mind, with an audience of 130 million in performances worldwide, it’s interesting to see the artistic content that has captivated so many modern human minds.

The conflict in the first act is that between creativity and artistic inspiration on the one hand and everyday security and happiness on the other. In the second act, the performance changes its overall focus. If the protagonist in the first act was the character Christine, if the theme in the first act was her effort to combine two seemingly incompatible driving forces in her artistry, then we see another protagonist and another theme in act two.

In act two, the phantom becomes the main character. And if in the first act he represented one of the singer’s inner driving forces, he is now a person, albeit unusual as such, yet a person with common passions and desires. A lonely figure who longs for love, who gets to taste it for a moment and then gives up his hateful project of revenge on his rival and on humanity.

Joa Helgeson (The Phantom) – photo: Mats Bäcker

From having dramatized the conflict between Dionysian creativity and Appolonian order in the first act, the second act is about another conflict. That between the goodness of love and the wickedness of revenge. From focusing on Christine and her attempt to reconcile subliminal creativity and social order, the focus in the second act is between good and evil.

This is perhaps one of the success factors in the history of this musical. To indicate a serious conflict and to let it go and focus instead on a simplified dichotomy in black and white. And we! We asked ourselves – is this a strength or a weakness? In terms of profit it is a strength clearly. Artistically – well, I would like to ask Aristotle about that.

Did we experience catharsis? Catharsis – the emotional cleansing in a tragedy that makes it possible to see something new, something that was previously hidden.

I can only answer for myself. To me, The Phantom of the Opera confirmed an already well-known truth – that love can overcome evil. The musical is preparing a tragedy aimed at opening up an important conflict in human souls. A conflict where good and bad are not black and white but a complexity that requires an experience that opens our minds. The musical avoids this and leads us to a simple confirmation that everything is still alright.

Is the phenomenon of The Phantom of the Opera just a way of pacifying our worries about an important conflict in our minds? Or does it tell us something that is important for us to know?

You who read this and have seen The Phantom of the Opera in any of its sets – please give your answer to that question.