THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
This story, translated from the French, of Gaston Leroux is the most famous of all tales of the occult written by French authors, and holds a high place in fiction of that type by authors of all nationalities.
Work was begun on the Opera House in Paris in 1861, had to be abandoned during the Franco-Prussian war and the Commune, was then resumed and completed in 1879. Although I have attended numerous performances there, until I read this novel I had no idea of its vast size, let alone that there was a lake beneath it.
Underground it has many basement levels, one of which is fifty feet in height, to enable a whole scene to be lowered on its frame. As such scenes can weigh up to twenty-two million pounds, the foundations of the building had to prevent such a mass from becoming bogged down in water and mud. To drain this huge pit eight great steam pumps were kept working night and day for eight months. Then a flooring and walls of bitumen were laid to contain what became the lake.
A part of the building planned for the private use of the Emperor Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie consisted of salons, cloakrooms, guard rooms and stabling to accommodate a hundred people, six coaches and fifty horses. In one of the basements, too, there are horses kept permanently in another stable, and a great assortment of coaches, carriages, chariots and so on, for use as necessary in every type of opera played on the stage.
There are eighty dressing rooms with antechambers and closets for the principal artists, eight other large dressing rooms that will each accommodate from twenty to one hundred and ninety lesser performers. There are a hundred choristers and eighty musicians, also carpenters, upholsterers, electricians, firemen, dressers, callboys, clerks, programme sellers, hairdressers and stablemen forming a permanent staff totalling many scores. Numerous tanks hold twenty-two thousand gallons of water. There are two thousand, five hundred and thirty-one doors, and throughout the building innumerable staircases, lifts, ladders and chutes connect the tier after tier of floors.
It is easy to understand how a man could live undetected by the management in this huge complex of chambers, passages, machinery and great crossbeams for several years. But our ghost is no ordinary mortal who occasionally appears in terrifying form to set groups of ballet girls running from him with screams of terror. His occult powers enable him to deprive a primadonna of her voice in the middle of a song, to cause a weighty chandelier to fall on the audience at a given moment, and to disappear at will.
He is attracted by a beautiful singer named Christine Dané and, without revealing himself, convinces her that he is the Angel of Music. One night the primadonna falls ill. Christine, who is her understudy, takes her part and, under the influence of the ghost, sings sublimely.
At about this time Christine meets again Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny. The two were childhood playmates. De Chagny falls desperately in love with her, but she will not admit that she returns his love because her mind is obsessed with the “Angel of Music” who is training her to become a great opera star.
But her success is only temporary, because the ghost becomes jealous of de Chagny and carries her off to his secret abode far below the surface of the earth. It is a strange little house he has built for himself on the far side of the underground lake. There, incredibly hideous though she finds him to be when he removes his mask, she promises to marry him as the price of saving de Chagny’s life.
In the latter chapters of the book a Persian comes into the story. He is the only person who knows the ghost’s secret. Through him we learn about the ghost’s origin, his earlier life and his travels in many countries.
In the Prologue the author assures us that the Opera ghost was not a figment of his imagination or based on a legend, but that there is ample proof that the so-called “ghost” really existed.
The story is packed with strange, apparently inexplicable happenings, mad desire, torture, murder and a suspense that cannot fail to grip the reader.