Born in 1868, Gaston Leroux was a French court reporter and newspaper drama critic who liked Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. He started writing detective stories which were serialized in the newspaper. He became intrigued with the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris, which had an underground lake and suffered a famous chandelier crash. Leroux wove these details into Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, or The Phantom of the Opera.
Leroux lays the plot out as a detective sharing the details of his investigation into rumors of an “opera ghost.”
Two new managers have taken over the opera house, and the old managers showed them a memorandum book with the ghost’s requirements of a certain sum of money each month and Box 5 to be always available for his use. The new managers think the old ones are pulling their leg, so they ignore the instructions despite increasing threats.
During one performance, the lead singer, Carlotta, is too ill too sing. Her understudy, Christine Daaé, performs the role beautifully. The Vicomte Raoul de Chagny was in the audience and recognizes Christine as his old playmate from childhood. Raoul tries to see Christine after the performance, but goes into a jealous rage when he hears another man talking in her dressing room.
However, Christine and Raoul do meet later. She tries to keep aloof from Raoul, but falls in love with him. She tells him that the man he heard is her teacher, the Angel of Music that her father promised to send her when he died. But the Angel of Music—also known as the Opera Ghost or O. G. or Erik—is very jealous and dangerous.
The O. G. continues leaving instructions for the new managers. He wants Christine to sing the lead in Faust. When Carlotta sings instead, she starts croaking during her aria. Then the great chandelier falls, killing one person.
Now the new managers are angry, believing that someone is trying to extort them.
Christine begins to seek a way to be with Raoul. She plans to sing one last time for Erik and then escape with Raoul. But at the height of her aria, everything goes dark for an instant. When the light comes back on, Christine is gone.
Raoul, of course, goes to search for her and learns more about O. G. in the process.
So, though the format is a crime story, the novel also has several elements of a gothic romance. Parts of it reminded me of Beauty and the Beast and Frankenstein.
As you’re probably aware, there was a famous 1925 movie based on the book with Lon Chaney as the Phantom. Andrew Lloyd Weber wrote a successful musical based on the story in the 1980s which is still being performed today and which was turned into a movie in 2004.
I had read this book several years ago, but forgotten much of it. Though gothic romances aren’t my favorite genre, and parts of this one are a little overwrought, overall I enjoyed getting reacquainted with the story.
Have you read Phantom? What did you think?