Part 4 of this track-by-track Love Never Dies commentary deals with our introduction to Christine, Raoul and the new addition to their family three months after the Phantom sent for Christine under his ‘Mr Y’ pseudonym. (Mister Y = Mystery, get it?) This sequence of scenes can be found on tracks 9-12 on the original cast recording.
9. “Christine Disembarks”
In The Phantom of the Opera, the reprise of “Angel of Music” is sharply interrupted by the start of the title song. In Love Never Dies, the reprise of “‘Til I Hear You Sing” ends with the sound of the foghorn at the docks, where the ship that is bringing Christine to New York has arrived. Now a world famous soprano, she is greeted by a group of newspapermen, much to Raoul’s displeasure.
This section of the show is interesting for two reasons. It is the first time that the creators of Love Never Dies seem to shift away from the structure of the original production. In the original production, we were taken into the Phantom’s lair with the title song – a supposedly wonderful experience, so transcendent that it required a kind of hybrid rock-disco composition to communicate the experience. Has this building block completely disappeared? No – but it has been displaced and will turn up later in a scene between Gustave and the Phantom in a song entitled “The Beauty Underneath”. The section in the original show following that, which establishes the dynamics of the Phantom-Christine relationship has also been displaced, although far less so, as it follows this chunk of exposition and will be discussed in the next part of this track-by-track commentary. Meanwhile, we have a series of scenes that seems without precedent in the original – although perhaps later we will discover a scene in The Phantom of the Opera that has been retrospectively displaced too.
The second interesting point arising from this sequence is the characterisation of Raoul, who seems to suddenly have become a kind of character variation of Ravenal from Show Boat. What he has in common with his predecessor is his shame and his financially devastating gambling habit; where he differs is that he has no charm whatsoever – and that, I believe, will become a problem for the show. The choice makes things too easy for Christine. If we are going to end up in a situation where she has to choose once again between the Phantom and Raoul, this is the kind of thing that removes any kind of dramatic tension from that choice, which makes the climax itself weaker. Christine is, after all, the protagonist of this franchise and it should be her choice, as in the original, that spurs the drama on towards its climax. But how much more interesting would it be if that choice was between either the lessor of two evils or an embarrassment of riches, instead of simply being between one thing that is apparently good and on that is apparently bad.
Getting back to the piece itself, we have some general hobnobbing by the press as they wait for Christine to disembark the ship. She does to to a strain of music that we haven’t heard yet, but which will become one of the melodic phrases in “Once Upon Another Time” in the next sequence. It’s a nostalgic little phrase, just enough to tell us that perhaps this isn’t as triumphant an appearance for Christine as it could be and, when we understand the resonance of the phrase itself after it is developed later, it signals to us that she is still in conflict with the events of her past. Raoul then takes on the press with remarkably bad form, with text that really needs to be played with a bit more not only by the librettists but also by Joseph Millson, who is Raoul on this recording and in the original production. Even a creative reading by Millson could have salvaged the drama of this dialogue somewhat, but it’s annoyingly one note as it appears here. It would be nice to see a Raoul in conflict, tortured by his love for his family and his failure as provider and lover, struggling to protect their private lives in this invasive public context. Instead, we only see a man who is mean-spirited because he is a gambler and, we discover later, a drunk and therefore he is obviously signaled as “bad news” – and there’s nothing dramatically interesting about that.
The attention shifts to Christine’s song, Gustave, who notices a strange sight approaching the company while he is being questioned by the press…
10. “Arrival Of The Trio – Are You Ready To Begin?”
“Mister Y” has sent three of the Coney Island freaks to greet the De Chagny party, much to Raoul’s displeasure. Once again, I feel like there could be more to his reaction to the trio than the general ranting and raving we are given. Why not play into the obvious subtext about being met by the deformed given the events he endured in The Phantom of the Opera? It would at least give him some motivation and contribute to greater internal conflict for the character that can be used later in the show.
Musically, we first hear a music box styled theme that we will come to associate with these three characters when they once again come to fetch Gustave for a visit with the Phantom later in the show. This alternates with a theme that will develop into the song in that scene, “The Beauty Underneath”. Here we once again get some pop music orchestration, with rock guitars underscoring the sung lines of the trio of freaks. I am certain it’s intended to sound mysterious and edgy, but it actually just sounds as if the Pharisees from Jesus Christ Superstar have wandered into Love Never Dies to sing some of their recitative. But Love Never Dies is not a rock musical, no matter how much it pretends to be one in certain sections of its score and the stylistic switch is out of place and inappropriate for what is basically an operetta. One might try to be gracious and say that it’s a post-modern take on the form, but since there is nothing else about this production that is even vaguely post-modern, I’d be hard pressed to accept that as a valid argument in favour of the presence of this type of music in this show.
Gustave is, of course, completely entranced by it all. Wouldn’t you be if you were a little boy in the early 20th century and you heard electric rock music – especially if your mother is a celebrated opera singer? Gustave’s reaction is, of course, meant to signal something to us. We’re not idiots, so I think we’re all very aware that this is probably not Raoul’s son and this pretty much confirms it without saying anything obvious. After all, isn’t the resolution of the first generation’s conflict in the second generation a staple of Gothic Romanticism? Maybe I’m being too cynical again; the revelation will probably be a great one to anybody who hasn’t read Wuthering Heights.
In any event, this all goes on for a minute or so and then the press are left to genuflect upon the incident, until the next celebrity distraction comes along.
11. “What A Dreadful Town!”
As if we haven’t had enough obvious exposition regarding Raoul’s change of character, we now get another scene in which we shown that he is a bad father, a bad husband and an ungrateful man who makes no connection between his actions and the circumstances in which the De Chagny family now finds themselves. If you haven’t got it yet, you know by now that Raoul is a Very Bad Man who makes Christine and Gustave unhappy. Once again, it’s making Christine’s choice way too obvious far too early on in the show.
What I’m most interested to know after hearing this is how Raoul gets to be the character we see in the prologue at the beginning of the The Phantom of the Opera. The regret and character reform may be easy for him to come by, but how is he going to come into money once again? But I digress…
Raoul is unwittingly faced twice with the Phantom’s music in this scene, once in a phrase played by Christine as she goes over her aria at the piano and once in a tune that is played by a music box that has been given to Gustave. These two moments work because they do play into an insecurity of Raoul’s, but I still think that this could be used as motivation for his character to leave and go out drinking (despite Christine’s heartfelt pleas) instead of just having him go out to drink because he is a drunk and therefore, as we know, a Very Bad Man.
12. “Look With Your Heart”
Gustave is very upset. His father won’t play games with him and this makes the son wonder if his father actually loves him? Cue a song in the genre of “I Whistle a Happy Tune” – although, this being Love Never Dies, it’ll be a ballad and also serve as a kind of lullaby. The song also does an interesting thing with register in terms of its ambivalent language usage. Remember Act 3 Scene 5 in Romeo and Juliet where Juliet and her mother are talking about love and marriage and death and weeping and the former is talking about Romeo and the latter about Paris and Tybalt? Here we have the same kind of thing. Christine sings the song to Gustave, ostensibly about his relationship with his father, although those of us that are familiar with the franchise understand that Christine is singing about her relationship with the Phantom. Gustave thinks Christine is singing about Raoul, but thinks that she is singing about her relationship with his father instead of his, which is why he responds to her with what sounds like strangely intuitive childish insight. Thrilling, no? Well, not as thrilling as Shakespeare’s scene, which is brilliant in isolating the different registers. This is not quite as refined an example, with the second half of the lyric, “Love is not always beautiful, not at the start”, being an obvious transgressor in straddling more than one register too obviously, but it’s nice that a song which could be taken as a mawkish throwaway piece can be elevated, perhaps, to more than it should be.
Following the song, we get an instrumental interlude that ends with a music box theme that gives us a snatch of scoring from The Phantom of the Opera. Those familiar with the original score will remember it as both a part of the “Little Lotte” sequence and as the verse of “Past the Point of No Return” where Christine sings first, “You have brought me…” and then “I have come here…”. Now, it seems, history has repeated itself and it’s time for a grand reunion…
Final verdict: Frankly, after the previous sequence of scenes, I found this section rather disappointing. Whereas the earlier scenes dealt with exposition in an economical way, these really slow down to ponder on basic points as if anything more complicated would confuse the audience completely. As I said earlier of Meg, Raoul needs to be approached in a more complex fashion if the stakes of the show are going to be high and truly compelling. We also have another intrusion of electric music here, but as I said in my previous post that is a problem with the way that the Phantom franchise has been established – some kind of populist identity crisis, if you will. At any rate, I think this section of the show needs a great deal of character work to balance the narrative developments we see here: what it requires is more action and (perhaps) fewer actions.
NEXT UP: Beneath a moonless sky…
Purchases from Amazon.com
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT:
1. Love Never Dies Concept Album Cast Recording.
2. Love Never Dies Concept Album Cast Recording – Deluxe Edition.