The Phantom will be inside your mind long after the curtain falls.
By Sebastian Purcell
The Phantom of the Opera opened on London’s West End in October 1986 and has been re-staged many times over for the past 36 years. Opera Australia’s season of Phantom of the Opera is beautifully re-imagined through an exquisite and lively production. Director Laurence Connor has breathed fresh life into arguably one of the most successful and recognisable musicals in history.
For those unaware, the story is set In the late 1800’s. The cast of the Paris Opera House are rehearsing a new production of Hannibal when resident soprano prima donna Carlotta Giunicelli’s (Giuseppina Grech) aria is interrupted by a stage accident. Ballet dancer Christine Daaé (Amy Manford) takes over the role to great acclaim, but her unseen angel of music teacher the Phantom (Josh Piterman) is enraged when his physical deformity is revealed. Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (Blake Bowden) falls in love with Christine, promising to protect her from the Phantom. Christine must then choose between her love of performing and the love of her life.
As one expects from Opera Australia, the vocal performances of the 37 strong cast are flawless. Amy Manford’s performance as Christine is the best I have ever seen. Think of Me, Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, and The Phantom of the Opera are chillingly breathtaking. However, it’s her performance of Notes/Twisted Every Way that grounds the character as a frightened child, being used by the men in her life. Manford draws the audience to a standing ovation – and deservedly so.
Josh Piterman’s Phantom is full of interesting choices. While vocally exquisite and smooth and his renditions of Music of the Night, All I Ask of You (reprise) and The Point of No Return are pitch perfect, he plays the role more gently, more humanly than other portrayals. However. I must say I missed at times the cruelty and anger of previous Phantoms which tie the inward ugliness of the character to his physical ugliness. The staging of this production at times also humanised the Phantom, placing him amongst the cast for the Act Two opener Masquerade/ Why so Silent? as opposed to above the cast, on a staircase, as per previous productions. For me, this reduced his stature and consequently less likely to be feared. Nonetheless, Piterman’s performance is worth the top billing.
Blake Bowden’s performance as Raoul is also outstanding. His tone is silky throughout All I Ask of You and the trio of Bowden, Piterman and Manford soar in Wondering Child. Credit must go to the sound design team at the State Theatre as every note is clearly audible. The ensemble is tight, and well utilised throughout for scene changes adding impressive colour and movement.
Paul Brown’s set design is the boldest I’ve seen and is as jaw dropping as the performances themselves. The well-known bridge to the Phantom’s lair is replaced with the most magnificent spiral staircase. The scenes are densely populated adding a rich character that fills the State theatre, ensuring you can’t mistake it for a concert. The chandelier, well its best left to experience rather than description, but in true Phantom form it comes screaming down from the ceiling.
Finally, Phantom of the Opera’s music by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is what audiences love. The 27-piece orchestra brings the wonderful score to life. Melbourne’s State Theatre is arguably the best place to hear it. It doesn’t get any better than this full orchestra taking flight as the chandelier rises and the overture kicks into full swing.
Opera Australia’s The Phantom of the Opera is the boldest, most stunning production of the musical yet. This night of music was indeed incredibly special.
The Phantom of the Opera is playing at the Melbourne Arts Centre from 3 November to 5 February. Tickets Arts Centre Melbourne.
Photo credit: Daniel Boud