Madame Giry, friend to Phantom. In each version of the Phantom of the Opera, she’s depicted slightly different. In Leroux, she’s an elderly woman, a widow, who dresses is a worn-out black taffeta dress, with a dingy hat, whose job is that of concierge of the patrons who sit in the boxes. In Webber's versions, she’s portrayed differently in the stage play and the movie. In the play, she is ballet mistress, a middle-aged widow, who carries a cane, appearing as a stern and ominous woman. In the movie, however, her character is softened. She is still the ballet mistress and choreographer, a middle-aged widow, carries a cane, but possesses less of an overbearing character. All versions have Meg as her daughter, a talented ballet dancer.
Each of these portrayals, however, focuses on her personal knowledge of the Opera Ghost. She is his messenger and accomplice in many ways. Madame Giry collects his salary, delivers his notes, tells you when the Opera Ghost is well pleased, warns of his displeasure and capability of fury, and delivers his roses to Christine. She reads the Opera Ghost’s note to the managers welcoming them to “his opera house” and instructs them to leave Box 5 empty for his use, and that his salary that is due. When they go against the Opera Ghost’s wishes, she knows the angel sees, the angel knows, and nothing good can come of it. She also warns Joseph Buquet to keep quiet about his knowledge of the Ghost and not to enrage him by his actions, a warning that goes unheeded and ends in death.
As far as the Phantom’s origination, in Leroux it’s not indicated that she is aware of his past. (Leroux friends, correct me if I’m wrong here.) In Webber’s play, however, she becomes acquainted with him as a circus freak that has escaped and comes to live at the Opera House. In the movie, she is portrayed as his sole rescuer from the traveling fair, and the one who hid him from the world and its cruelty. She admires him as a genius, architect, magician, musician, and composer.
Madame Giry brings Christine to live at the Opera House upon her father’s death and treats her like a daughter. When Carlotta storms off the stage, she seems to know it’s the opportune time to introduce Christine’s talent, no doubt at the prodding of the Opera Ghost. She knows he has been tutoring her, and her promising talent is ripe and ready to be revealed. She is also aware of his fascination with her as a woman. We see her watch him lock Christine’s dressing room door, knowing the meaning of his intention, and not protesting his imminent revelation of himself to her. On the other hand, when the Phantom in his madness kidnaps Christine and destroys the Opera House, she befriends Raoul showing him the way to the lair.
Madame Giry is portrayed as a friend to Phantom who knows his secrets. She is his rescuer, enabler, accomplice, and is sympathetic to his plight. Her concern and caring for his well being is shown in at Point of No Return, as she reacts to his appearance on stage in Don Juan. She holds the cross on her necklace while watching Christine and the Phantom cross the bridge above, as if praying for them both.
The Phantom trusts her, but no doubt uses that trust to his advantage to carry out his desires at the Opera Populaire. However, he protects her and Meg from harm, and oversees their well being throughout his life there. He deals harshly in Leroux’s version with the managers when they attempt to remove her from her post. The Phantom seems to have a deep gratitude for her, and Madame Giry seems to have a deep respect, albeit laced with some healthy fear, for the Phantom himself. Whatever else she felt for him beyond that can be left to speculation.
The Phantom owes her a debt of gratitude for giving him a new existence. Christine owes Madame Giry a debt of gratitude for taking her in after her father’s death. Raoul owes her a debt of gratitude for leading him to the Phantom’s lair to rescue Christine. Madame Giry, the friend to Phantom, and helper of those in need.
Trying to pull a lesson out of Madame Giry has been somewhat challenging. I see in her someone who is a rescuer and enabler, but mean no disrepect of her well-meaning actions. Though she believed she was helping the Phantom throughout his life at the Opera Populaire, she was also enabling him to live a life hid from the world, never learning to deal emotionally with its cruelties or to venture into it as a human being to find his place. The Opera House was the only world, beyond the fair, he had ever known. In a sense, she freed him from the jeers of mankind, but bound him to a life of another kind. She rescued him, but also enabled him to play a different role in life, one of the Opera Ghost and Phantom of the Opera. Of course, in Leroux and the play, we know the Phantom had a life outside of the Opera House before he came to live there; but in the movie, he does not.
I believe at the end, Madame Giry was forced to admit the Phantom had to be stopped, and she could no longer hide him from the world or keep his secrets. He had destroyed the only world they both knew, which was a world she also loved and lived in, as ballet mistress at the Opera Populaire. Madame Giry not only helped choreograph the ballet performances, but played a role in choreographing the Phantom’s life as well, wouldn’t you say?
I admit I am somewhat of a rescuer and enabler myself - the Madame Giry type. I tend to help others so much it usually leads to their continued lack of growth, as well as to my own detriment. As much as we can care for another human’s plight, rescue and enablement are not always the best answers to helping a person. It doesn’t always promote maturity that leads a person to be self-sufficient, healthy, and whole. Madame Giry cared for the Phantom, it’s evident, but had to arrive at the painful realization things had to change.
What do you see in Madame Giry’s character? As usual, I’m always interested in knowing your thoughts.
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