Les Faustian Fantômes

Use of Faust, the legend and the Opera, in Phantom stories

Before the days of the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" by Bach had often been associated with the Phantom. Ironically, in all of the musicals and movies, it is only used once. That would be the movie in 1962 starring Herbert Lom, when Christine is first taken to the Phantom's lair. Meanwhile, Faust has been used time and time again, first in the original story by Leroux and later in children's adapatations, musicals, movies, and other novels. "The Jewel Song" is used the most often, in fact. (I stopped counting at seven. It is even used in Wishbone's Phantom episode.) Yet the common audience member rarely associates Faust with the Phantom, not even "The Jewel Song." How's that for irony?

During the time when Gaston Leroux was writing his novel, it seems that the opera Faust by Gounod had become quite popular. It made its debut on March 19, 1859 at Théâtre Lyrique in an attempt to revive the career of Marie Miolan-Carvalho, an aging soprano that was the inspiration for Leroux's character Carlotta. Critics were not so nice with her, describing her voice as thin and shrill. The general public was more receptive, enough to make it profitable at least for the rest of the year.

It began losing money, so the publisher Antoine Chouens bought the copyright for 10,000 francs. During the next few years, after making his own changes, the opera went on tour in Germany, Belgium, Italy, and England. It also found its way to Rouen (Erik's birthplace according to Leroux). Swedish soprano Christina Nilsson, rumored to be the inspiration for Leroux's Christine Daaé, sang the role of Marguerite in Faust for the inaugural performance of the Metropolitan Opera House on October 22, 1883. Nilsson was a smash hit.

In the long run, it saved French opera which had been dying of stagnation. By January 1862, this opera experienced a "revival" in Paris. After a few more changes including the addition of a ballet scene, it started playing at Palais Garnier (Paris Opera House) in 1869 where it became the most frequently performed opera for its time.

Its influence is present in many versions of the Phantom's story. Some are light-hearted, even fuzzy. Some are comical and others are heavy. Below is a compilation of the presence of Faust in different versions. The influence is so strong in some versions, I had to give them their own pages.

  1. Novel by Gaston Leroux, 1911

    Christine Daaé sings the role of Marguerite in the Final Trio at the opera gala after Carlotta mysteriously becomes ill. Her performance is remarkable, but her passion as she swept herself into the role is so great, she faints right on stage after she finishes the song. Later, Raoul hears her tell someone in her dressing room, "I gave you my soul tonight." Christine has now become famous. It is a battle to the bitter end from then on between Christine and Carlotta, as the Phantom consistently insists Christine sing the role. It is this opera Carlotta is trying to sing when the Phantom puts a frog in her throat, so to speak.

  2. Silent Movie starring Lon Chaney, 1925

    Carlotta receives a threatening note by the Opera Ghost telling her that Christine will sing the role of Marguerite in Faust. Carlotta's mother is outraged and takes this to the managers. They agree to let Carlotta sing as planned, but she mysteriously falls ill at the last moment. Christine is cast into the role at the last minute, and becomes an instant success. It is kind of cute the way Raoul gazes at Christine from his private box, as Marguerite is carried by angels to Heaven at the end of the opera ("Apotheosis"). The Phantom is not happy to stop there. The next time Carlotta tries to sing this role, the chandelier falls during her performance ("The Jewel Song").

  3. Movie starring William Finley, 1974

    The Phantom, while still known as Winslow Leach, composes a rock cantata about Faust. The villain in power loves it; it's Leach he hates. Faust has its reality in this film, but not exactly for the Phantom. This time, in a "Faust meets Dorian Gray" scenario, it is real for the villain Swan who made a pact with the devil: his soul for eternal youth.

  4. Movie starring Maximillian Schell, 1983

    The background music from "The Church Scene" during the opening credits foreshadow the gloomy nature of this movie and the demonic nature of this Phantom. The movie begins with a rehearsal of Faust, "The Jewel Song" in particular. Elena Korvin struggles with the aria, in sharp contrast later to the darling, over-the-top Brigida Bianchi. Bianchi flawlessly rehearses not only this aria, but also her curtsy to the audience. ("I must acknowledge their applause," she tells the director.) As the story progresses, the opera becomes all too real for the Phantom and his prize diva as he becomes the Mephistopheles to her Marguerite. It seems as though this movie, in spirit, is a two-hour Church Scene.

  5. Musical by Ken Hill, 1984

    A few different scenes from Faust are included in this show. Carlotta dies a comical death after trying to sing "The Jewel Song" and suffering the frog in her throat, courtesy of the Phantom. Christine is singing "The Final Trio" from The Prison Scene with the other performers when she is kidnapped. The same tune to "Valentin's Aria" is used in the Phantom's song to Christine: "Ne'er Forsake Me, Here Remain."

  6. Movie starring Robert Englund, 1989

    When Christine first wakes up in Victorian England and the company continues their rehearsals, Carlotta can be heard singing "Il était un Roi de Thulé" in the background. Later on, when Christine gets singing lessons from the Phantom via her dressing room mirror, she is singing "The Jewel Song." Christine sings it again later on stage after Carlotta becomes "ill" at the last moment. The opera becomes all too real for the Phantom. As he watches the opera from box five, and Mephistopheles makes his entrance ("Me Voici"), he dwells on the bitter memories of the moment he sold his own soul to the devil and was horribly disfigured for eternity.

  7. Movie starring Charles Dance, 1990

    In sharp contrast to the 1983 movie, Mephistopheles ("Mephisto") is kept fictional in this romantic miniseries. The talented actor playing Mephisto is a friendly charmer and a gentle giant. He even takes pity on Christine (along with the cute, chubby tenor who plays Faust), asking the audience not to boo her, when her voice gives way during her debut (thanks to the jealous Carlotta). At one point, he is wrongfully nearly arrested while still in costume when he is mistaken for the Phantom. For reasons not clearly explained, Christine knows she can bring the Phantom up if she is permitted to sing the role of Marguerite. It works. She is singing "The Jewel Song" when the Phantom first hears her and begins to walk up from his lair. The role of Faust becomes real for both Christine and Erik for one blissfully romantic Phuzzy Phantom Moment.

  8. Novel by Susan Kay, 1991

    Carlotta ignores the Phantom's threats and performs as Marguerita in Faust. She gets a frog in her throat, courtesy of the Phantom, and so Christine is cast into the role. It becomes her claim to fame.

  9. Graphic Novel by Mitchell Perkins, 1991

    Raoul pays respects to Christine's deathbed request to be buried in her Marguerite costume, as it is the only role she ever played on stage.

  10. Movie starring David Staller, 1993

    Carlotta tries to sing "The Jewel Song" from Faust while the Phantom sends Joseph Buquet to constantly interrupt her. She finally gets so infuriated, she walks off the stage and refuses to sing another note.

  11. Novel by Sam Siciliano, 1994

    Carlotta is singing a love duet with an aging tenor in Faust when the Phantom places a frog in her throat. Later on, Christine is kidnapped right after her performance as Marguerite. She disappears within a split second in front of a full house right after finishing "The Final Trio" from The Prison Scene with two other singers.

  12. "Pantin' at the Opera" starring Wishbone, 1995

    Carlotta gets a froggy in her throat, courtesy of the Phantom, while trying to sing "The Jewel Song" during the opera gala.

  13. CD recording of Musical by Theatreworks, 1997

    A brand new opera titled Faust appears to be cursed for the Palais Garnier. The Phantom has forbidden that it ever be sung, even if Christine herself is cast as Marguerite.

  14. Movie starring Julian Sands, 1998

    After Carlotta mysteriously falls ill, Christine is sent to sing the role of Marguerite in Faust. Exhausted and upset at a small, indifferent audience, Christine faints on the stage.

Click to Protect Threatened Wolves A comprehensive guide on Faust legends through history can be read here.

An article on the comparison of Goethe's Faust (on which the opera by Gounod is based) and Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera can be read at this web page from Crysania's Worlds.

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