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Review by Brad Green:
Graphics people immediately think gargoyles. Wardrobe reaches for capes and ballroom masks. And composers write “organ” in the margins of their manuscripts before they commit to a single note. Evoking the gothic is a straightforward enterprise, and Andrew Lloyd Webber stuck to the formula with Phantom Of The Opera, his blockbuster musical based on the 1911 Gaston Leroux story (and 1925 and 1943 filmic adaptations) of a sinister figure lurking beneath the Paris Opera House. Right down in the sewers according to the current film that spawned this soundtrack. 

From the top of the Overture, the organ enters with menacing chromatic steps; and in this recording we have good reason to feel a foreboding. Some lovely tunes are about to get butchered.

Sadly, it’s a case of an artist debasing his own art. Lloyd Webber insists on maintaining control of his projects, and sure enough he took responsibility for casting the movie. He does of course boast some notches on his belt when it comes to unearthing vocal talent. After all, he astonished the world with the revelation that Frank “Behhhteee” Spencer trades his trademark whine for a mellifluous tenor when you stick him on stage or in front of a studio mike. On the other hand, after this debacle I wouldn’t trust Webber to cast a shadow on a sunny afternoon in an open meadow.

Are Gerard Butler as the Phantom, and Emily Rossum as his perplexed protégé, Christine, really that dire? The answer depends on criteria. Undoubtedly, the both of them are talented actors, can sing a bit and are easy on the eye. Given the right songs, they might even be easy on the ear. Unfortunately, this material finds them way out of their depth; and as we’re dealing primarily with a musical it’s hard to cut them slack.

Somewhat ironically, Minnie Diver, the only cast member whose singing voice is dubbed during the film, takes on a final credits song herself. And does fine. Admittedly, it’s innocuous pop and not very demanding, but she does sound assured. So does Patrick Wilson as Raoul, the rival for Christine’s attentions, but he simply isn’t featured enough to be consequential.

As might be expected, neither Butler nor Rossum are complete rookies in the warbling department. Apparently Butler once fronted a Scottish rock band, and Rossum has received a bit of publicity for having performed as a youngster with the Metropolitan Opera. Closer investigation reveals she passed the audition for the choir at age seven by singing Happy Birthday and left before her teens. I’m sure she could hold a tune better than most, but it’s not exactly vocal prodigy credentials.

Having said that, it won’t surprise me the least if Rossum shines as a singer sometime in the future. She’s only 18 and her voice can only mature. Both leads do enjoy the odd good moment here. Unfortunately they don’t all fall into place in any one song. So we can’t just throw a mask over half the record and say the rest is rather handsome.

There is a sweetness to Rossum’s vibrato and a depth in Butler’s timbre that appeal in spasmodic phrases. Both, however, strain at the range of most of the songs, Butler struggling the most with pitch and over-emoting as he under-achieves at hitting the notes. 

To make matters worse the title track is subjected to a cheesy rock treatment, at the complete opposite end of the scale to the brilliant musical direction of David Hirschfelder on the 1992 Australian cast recording of Jesus Christ Superstar: a superlative achievement that showcased just how successfully Lloyd Webber’s melodies can be rocked-up with the right arrangements and performers.

That album remains a personal favourite, on the top of my playlist of any genre. This one I’m afraid is headed closer to where the Phantom dwells. 

Published February 10, 2005

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TITLE: The Phantom Of The Opera
ID: SK 93521
MUSIC BY: Andrew Lloyd Webber

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