The power of interpretation

Doesn’t it just give you goosebumps? I don’t know if there are many people who haven’t seen The Phantom of the Opera , but I’ve seen it more times than average. I grew up singing the role of Christine when my dad would play the piano (well, until my voice deepened and that high note at the end became truly impossible.)

But needless to say, I am a classified Phantom expert. Or so I thought, until I saw a recent performance at Bass Performance Hall that blew my mind.

Raoul – Christine’s sweet, innocent, selfless fiance – was a jerk. Such a jerk that if I were Christine, I probably would’ve chosen to live in the catacombs with the crazy guy.

My dad and I were flabbergasted. Raoul? A bad guy? We got home and instantly started watching the movie adaptation, and I felt a little better. But honestly, it’s been a week and a half, and I still can’t get it out of mind. What was the director thinking?

It all boils down to this: the power of interpretation. No two people – or directors – will ever read one character in the same way. Granted, it is usually not to the two extremes as Raoul, but there will always be minute discrepancies.

And this director seemed to think a villainous Raoul enhanced the story somehow.

Let’s take a look…

Sweet Raoul

So when the show begins, Christine is living in a fantasy world. Living in an opera house with the costumes, the settings, the rehearsals day-after-day tends to do that to you. But she also believes the Angel of Music has appeared to teach her to sing. Let’s just say her father’s death hit her pretty hard.

When we first see Raoul, he is real, one of the first things that seems so in this production, and he goes on to rescue Christine from her own imagination.

An imagination the Phantom is all to keen to take advantage of.

But even so, he isn’t quite real enough. I get the ultimate juxtaposition between Raoul and the Phantom. They symbolize good and evil, respectively. And I get that Raoul is supposed to be the ultimate boyfriend. But he has no flaws, no depth. He’s the “nice guy,” and this may be one reason Christine is so drawn to the dark, twisted intensity of the Phantom.

Angry Raoul

Maybe this is why Cameron Mackintosh – the director of the current US tour – wanted to produce a “darker, grittier” version of the world famous musical.

A version in which Christine actually goes as far as to slap Raoul! She slaps him. That wonderful, lovely man in the video above? Oh no. Trust me, this Raoul deserved it.

I obviously don’t have any pictures or videos from the new interpretation (but not for lack of trying). So watch the video below, but picture this instead: a power-hungry, envious man who places his fiance’s life in danger, despite her begging him not to make her face the Phantom.

Can you see it? So can I. And obviously, so could Cameron Mackintosh.

But why? What does Raoul’s altered personality add to the story? A few musings:

  • It makes Christine a more pliable character, swaying from one abusive relationship to another.
  • It makes the Phantom even more sympathetic to the audience and that much more determined to take Christine away from the real world and her ass of a boyfriend.
  • It keeps the audience a little more on our toes. Why on earth would she pick Raoul? Will she change her mind and go with the Phantom?

So while I still prefer the original Raoul, I give Mr. Mackintosh props for taking creative liberty to an age-old story. Everything can be spiced  up a little, right?

Except… If my book is ever made into a musical, please leave my characters alone 🙂


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