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The 2004 motion picture version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera" resembled very little of his own original 1986 musical. The younger, less violent, more humane and sexy title character was nothing new to the endless Phantom interpretations - it had already been created in the early 1980s by Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston. If stars would have been on the side of playwright Kopit and composer Yeston, the world would have fallen in love with a very different Phantom than the megalomanic musical by Lloyd Webber & company. Here KenNetti pays homage to the Kopit & Yeston Phantom - the most passionate of them all.
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The above witty quote starts Arthur Kopit's liner notes of the original Phantom cast recording (released in 1993). The quote is so very true. Even though Gaston Leroux's original 1911 novel is regarded as one the Gothic masterpieces, it has never been extremely original; the novel loans quite heavily from George L. Du Maurier, Bram Stoker and Arthur Conan Doyle, among others. Neither is Leroux's novel a significantly great piece of literature. As the original tale leaves so many questions unanswered, it is no wonder that the novel has inspired so many different adaptations.
The Hammer Films 1962 movie was the first true sympathetic and romantic take on the phantom tale. What Arthur Kopit did was taking the heart and soul of the Hammer version and expanding it to something that hadn't been done ever before in phantom adaptations. Jacques le Sourd of Gannett Newspapers summarized it all splendidly in his review of the 1991 musical: "It's about fathers and sons, lovers and mothers, and also how music connects to the deepest parts of the soul."
The first collaboration of Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston was the musical Nine (which was transformed into a screen musical by Rob Marshall in 2009). The original Nine won the Tony Award in 1982 for best musical. Actor and director Geoffrey Holder had obtained the American rights for Leroux's original The Phantom of the Opera. He approached Kopit and Yeston in 1983 to write a musical based on the book. Yeston had somewhat serious reservations about the idea. It may have been the more excited Kopit who made Yeston realize that their Phantom would not be a mere gothic thriller. Kopit wanted the audience to care for the title character.
Unfortunately the Leroux novel was already in the public domain in Great Britain. While Kopit and Yeston were developing their musical - and were in the process of raising money for the Broadway production - Andrew Lloyd Webber announced his own plans for a musical of The Phantom of the Opera. (Some sources claim that Maury Yeston retreated entirely from the project initiated by Holder, forcing Kopit to contact, among others, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein and even Lloyd Webber in search for another composer). Thus the musical by Kopit and Yeston was put on a shelf while the Lloyd Webber version premiered in London in 1986 - and became a smash hit.
The Lloyd Webber musical was soon announced for Broadway, making it nearly impossible to raise money for the version Holder had initiated. All this seemed like a deathblow to the Phantom Kopit and Yeston had created.
After adapting Hands of a Stranger (1987) for NBC television, Arthur Kopit got a new opportunity with his phantom script. NBC financed a two-part television miniseries, The Phantom of the Opera (1990), featuring Charles Dance as the Phantom, with Kopit working also as a co-producer. This television production led very quickly to the resurrection of the musical project by Kopit & Yeston.
The Kopit miniseries (that should be called as a two-part television movie) is the only Phantom of the Opera production filmed at the authentic Paris Opera House, Palais Garnier. Of course the production needed also some studio sets, such as the underground lake beneath the Opera House. The miniseries was directed by Tony Richardson, an Oscar-winning director of the movie Tom Jones (1963). American actor Burt Lancaster starred as Gerard Carriere, the fired Opera House manager with deep dark secrets. A longtime Richardson collaborator, Oscar-winning composer John Addison conducted his own original music score as well as authentic opera segments for the miniseries. (Addison is probably most known for his bouncy theme music for Murder She Wrote television series).
Since there has been other television productions of The Phantom of the Opera, the 1990 miniseries is usually regarded as "just another obscure take" on the Gaston Leroux original. Fans of the original book may regard it as on outrage that this gentle and kind 1990 Phantom kills very little and does not even show his face. However, these changes were bold and justified in Arthur Kopit's reimagining of the Opera Ghost. Nearly all other movie and stage versions contain the iconic unmasking scene inspired by the 1925 Lon Chaney silent movie - a scene that has significantly less emphasis in Leroux's original book. The Lloyd Webber version goes to ridiculous extremes by unmasking the Phantom twice. Whether the decision of not showing the Phantom's face in the 1990 miniseries was made by Arthur Kopit or by director Tony Richardson, it is nevertheless a bold and original decision - underlining both tolerance and compassion. Furthermore the face of the Opera Ghost has always presented a huge problem for filmmakers and make-up artists; not a single movie version has done it like Leroux described it. Luckily in the 1990 miniseries they left the Phantom's face behind the mask and, during the most dramatic unmasking ever, revealed the face only to Christine - concentrating solely on the girl's reaction seeing it. Thus the horror of the Phantom's face depends entirely on the viewer's own imagination. This new unmasking tradition continued into the Kopit & Yeston stage musical.
And if we are totally precise, the miniseries does show the Phantom's face in two flashbacks about his childhood - but you will need a magnifying glass to see the face properly. Showing the disfigured face on a small child, without actually emphasizing it, was surely an intentional and intelligent decision by director Richardson.
For all those fans who drooled over Gerard Butler in the 2004 Lloyd Webber movie, the 1990 incarnation - as portrayed by Charles Dance - is the actual original embodiment of the young, passionate and erotic Phantom. The humane quality that Herbert Lom managed to express with one eye in the Hammer 1962 movie transforms into fiery passion in the 1990 miniseries with Dance's two expressive eyes and a masculine chin with beautiful mouth. His accent, however, is quite bizarre to say the least. But so is Christine's. And Carriere's. Although the miniseries was shot mostly in Paris, France, the end result is definitely more American than French.
Many of the character names in the Kopit & Yeston stage musical (such as the stage door man Jean-Claude and the girl trio Flora, Fleure & Florence) are already established in the cast list of the 1990 miniseries. One particular name difference does stand out: in the miniseries the character of Count Philippe is still named de Chagny, as in the original novel (although purists may find it a sacrilege that Kopit makes a hero out of the wrong brother). In the later stage musical Philippe's surname was changed, for reasons unknown, to de Chandon. The miniseries also includes a very minor character named Madame Giry; in the original book (and in Lloyd Webber musical) she had a significant role. The Kopit musical adaptation, however, has the Madame Giry character completely fused in the fatherly figure of Gerard Carriere, "the company manager". It should be also mentioned, that Christine's surname was changed in the Kopit treatment from the original Daaé to Daeé (but also Daee, without the emphasis, is sometimes used).
The length of this miniseries is often notified inccorrectly. With interrupting commercials the length can be 4 hours, but the actual miniseries duration is only 3 hours. However, these particular three hours may not fly as smoothly as the three wonderful hours of the later Kopit & Yeston stage musical. The miniseries version does include many favourite scenes from the musical - the picnic in Phantom's "forest" being the absolute highlight - but for a viewer who has fallen in love with the Kopit & Yeston stage musical, the miniseries may not be as powerful and enchanting experience. Without Maury Yeston's spirited songs, and the more compact storytelling of a stage musical, the miniseries gives the feeling that it has been unnecessarily stretched. The opera sequences and other operatic singing do give the miniseries an air of authenticity, but (with the exception of a climactic surprise duet) these sequences do not complement the Kopit script as greatly as the songs by Yeston.
Despite of the wittiness and bold decisions, Tony Richardson's direction concentrates too much on sloooooowly-developing realism. Kopit's caricature characters work well in the stage musical format, but in this miniseries they clash quite severely with Richardson's notably gloomy vision. The horror elements have been toned down so heavily that the result is undoubtedly the most horror-free version of The Phantom of the Opera. While the serene quality doesn't hurt the beautiful essence of Arthur Kopit's script, it does affect the whole, transforming these three hours into the most longest in Phantom movies. In the later 1991 musical version the Phantom was believable as an unstable human being - totally capable of killing - but in the miniseries he is simply too sweet.
by Tony Richardson
A S T
Less than a year after the NBC miniseries, in January 1991, Houston's Theater Under the Stars presented the world premiere of Phantom the musical. Maury Yeston had returned to finalize the gorgeous music and the beautiful lyrics. The original production was directed by Charles Abbott, conducted by Kay Cameron, and starred baritone Richard White as the passionate, sympathetic Phantom and Glory Crampton as the breathtaking Christine. (White voiced also Gaston in Disney's original animated Beauty and the Beast). Next summer Yeston and Kopit made a few changes into the show, resulting in a revised version presented in Seattle and San Bernardino in the fall of 1991. Ever since Phantom the musical has spread all over the world - from Japan to Finland, from Estonia to Germany to Australia - in more than thousand individual productions.
Compared to Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 musical, the original 1991 Kopit & Yeston Phantom was more authentic in presenting the 1890s French spirit. Yeston's music has often been described as more operetta-like than opera, but neither can Lloyd Webber's pop-rock-symphony be compared to serious opera. While Yeston's melodies and chansons are simply too beautiful, bouncy and accessible for an opera, Richard White as the original Phantom sounded totally believable as a music-loving young man who has lived all his life underneath an opera house - listening, absorbing and embracing the true operatic style in his own singing. Compared to the great eunuch-like Michael Crawford in the Lloyd Webber musical, Richard White became the real Phantom of the Opera.
The revised 1991 version of Phantom includes 16 individual songs (the mini-songs of the "Bistro" scene included), several dramatic reprises, and one fictional - though unfortunately brief - opera segment ("The Fairy Queen" in which Christine sings the role of Titania). In addition to these Yeston also composed excellent underscore pieces for scenes such as the chandelier crash and the epic climax. (Complete list of all these songs, reprises and scenes is found in Chapter Four: The 1993 Finnish Premiere Production).
In the fall of 1992 the Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) produced the Premiere Cast Recording of Phantom, which was released on CD in 1993 under the labels of RCA Victor and BMG Classics. The Premiere Cast Recording apparently featured most of the original Houston cast. Jonathan Tunick (the long-time orchestrator of Stephen Sondheim) conducted this Premiere Cast Recording. The orchestra included more than 30 players, while the ensemble chorus featured 20 singers. Even though the recording is a great testimony of a magnificent musical, the album does not include the most powerful segments of Yeston's score - the two reprises of "Where in the World" and the ferocious underscore for the climax. However, excerpts of The Fairy Queen opera and the chandelier crash are presented in the album's "Overture". We hope that someday there would be a complete recording of this epic Maury Yeston masterpiece.
It is very unlikely that the motion picture version of Nine (2009, by Rob Marshall) would be followed by another screen version of Kopit's and Yeston's collaborations. A fact remains, however, that their Phantom would transform easily into an excellent movie version. Andrew Lloyd Webber apparently knew this because the younger, less violent, more humane and sexy title character in his 2004 motion picture version was stolen straightly from the Arthur Kopit adaptation. We demand satisfaction for Kopit & Yeston.
and lyrics by Maury Yeston
A S T
R A C K S
Mélodie de Paris (4:56)
Paris Is a Tomb (1:03)
Dressing for the Night (2:27)
Where in the World (2:33)
This Place Is Mine (3:26)
Phantom Fugue (3:11)
You Are Music (3:02)
The Bistro (4:29)
Who Could Ever
Without Your Music (3:04)
My True Love (3:18)
My Mother Bore Me (5:08)
You Are My Own (3:39)
Finale: You Are Music (2:55)
When the Helsinki City Theatre (HKT), in the capital of Finland, announced in 1993 their new musical production, many people - including some of the actors - thought that it was going to be Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. Luckily it was not. With their passionate production of the Kopit & Yeston Phantom, the Helsinki City Theatre created an experience that became highly influential for many viewers. Although more than 15 years have passed since its last performance, the undersigned still remembers all the magic, all the music, all the emotion of the HKT production - (and unfortunately compares it to every new musical the theatre has produced).
One of the great assets of the HKT production was that the actors weren't professional singers. Too often people are trained to sing but not act. Especially a musical like the Phantom needs songs to be interpreted, not just sung. In the HKT 1993 production great young actors such as Sanna Saarijärvi (as Christine), Santeri Kinnunen (as Count de Chandon) and Oskari Katajisto (as the Phantom) indeed interpreted the songs through their acting skills and natural charisma. The incomparable Kristiina Elstelä was a riot as the scene-stealing Carlotta, while veteran actor Esko Nikkari, who wasn't much of a singer, created one of the most touching Gerard Carrieres ever. All the five lead roles featured equal alternate cast starring Riitta Havukainen (as the more "motherly" Christine), Kari Mattila (as the musically more talented Phantom), Esa Latva-Äijö (as another dashing Count de Chandon), Rea Mauranen (as another hilarious Carlotta), and Jyrki Kovaleff (as a more gentle Carriere). The lead actors were to appear in certain "official" combinations (for example Saarijärvi with Mattila), but especially in the spring of 1994 the lead actors alternated in no particular order - with unforgettable results.
The HKT 1993 Phantom was a very low-key production with humble sets (and, perhaps, with a most ridiculous chandelier crash) - but all this ensured that the heart and soul of Yeston's music and Kopit's script was not lost underneath overwhelming visual splendour. And yet, when the Phantom carried Christine into the gorgeous blinding light emitting through two huge opening doors at the end of Act I, there was probably no heart unaffected in the entire audience. The HKT production was directed by Ritva Holmberg with choreography by Marjo Kuusela, sets designed by Reija Hirvikoski, and lighting design by Claude Naville. The musical was translated in Finnish by Juha Siltanen.
When compared to the Premiere Cast Recording, the most significant change in this 1993 HKT version was splitting the song "My Mother Bore Me" into two separate parts. Originally the Phantom sang the entire song right after the fateful mask removal, but in the Finnish version the first part of the song (during which the Phantom emulates the poetry of William Blake) was sung in the picnic sequence in the underground "forest". This was followed by Christine's song "My True Love" and the mask removal, which led directly into the second part of "My Mother Bore Me" (that is called "Christine" even by Arthur Kopit in the liner notes of the original Premiere Cast Recording). Other changes included the repositioning of "Entr'acte" music into the end of the show to underscore the actors' bows. The introduction dialogue of "Melodie de Paris" was removed with the exception of one single line (a woman yelling "who is she?" in Christine's direction). The very brief "Music Lessons" was also toned down. The two different Christines of the production (Riitta Havukainen and Sanna Saarijärvi) sometimes only hummed the gentle reprise version of "You Are Music" during the finale.
The HKT version continued the 1990 miniseries' tradition of not showing the Phantom's face during the mask removal - and concentrating solely to Christine's reaction. However, in the beginning of the musical, during the song "Paris is a Tomb", the Phantom's face was shown to the audience through a magnifying glass. This rather clumsy detail was totally unnecessary. The humble Phantom make-up, designed by Pekka Helynen, was more in the style of "The Elephant Man" instead of the too-often seen acid abomination. Actors Kari Mattila and Oskari Katajisto poured all their charisma into the title role; especially the last-mentioned made an everlasting impression with his particularly expressive eyes and incomparable body language. The youthful appeal of the Kopit adaptation was emphasized in this Finnish version by dressing the Phantom in tight, black jeans with blood-red vest that left much of his bare chest and muscular arms visible. If you thought Gerard Butler was sexy, you would be drooling all over this 1993 Finnish Phantom.
It is a pity that no commercial recording exists of the Helsinki City Theatre 1993 production of the Phantom. The music supervisor and conductor Hannu Bister created a magnificent sound for this Finnish version. An orchestra of more than twenty players sounded breathtakingly symphonic through the magic of the sound team. The chorus included seven singers, but sounded much bigger. We hope that someday someone would transform the HKT archival videos on DVD and possible recordings into an album - or bring the magic of Ritva Holmberg's Phantom back to the stage.
To conclude this nutshell of Kopit's & Yeston's magnificent Phantom, here is another quote from Arthur Kopit: "The reception has been spectacular ever since [the 1991 premiere]. And audiences do care for the Phantom."
KenNetti is glad to be one of those who do care.
- Kenneth Sundberg -
October 20, 1993
by Patrik Pesonius
A S T
O N G S -&
johtava käytävä oopperatalossa
ooppera on mun
e -B i s t r o :
sut maailmaan unelmoi?
ooppera on mun (Kertaus)
lähteä näyttäytymään (Kertaus)
i t a n i a
synnyin alle kuuman auringon
Kopit & Yeston
h a n t o m
P r i
n c i p a l
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