Saturday, July 18, 2009

Heaven or Hell

Leroux weaves a tale in the Phantom of the Opera that is filled with underlying elements. Religion is one dominant theme, which Webber certainly carries on in the stage play. As I discussed in my book, the story itself and lyrics by Charles Hart are riddled with scriptural references.

Everyone in the story has a belief system of one type or another. Heaven, hell, and superstition are everywhere. Let’s take a quick look at heaven and hell in the Phantom of the Opera and the belief systems that influenced the characters’ behaviors.

France during the time of 1870 just entered into the Third Republic, and Catholicism was the state religion, though there were Protestants and Jews in France as well. Raoul makes a statement, while being interviewed by the public prosecutor, that he is Catholic. In fact, he’s a bit insulted when the prosecutor asks if he’s superstitious!

“Are you superstitious? No Monsieur, I am a practicing Catholic!”

Why the obvious horror at the question? Those who were educated and rich characterized the superstitious as feeble-minded individuals. No wonder Raoul is appalled at the prosecutor's question, which is a blatant insult to his class and title as Vicomte.

Was Christine Catholic? Probably not. Remember she came from Sweden, and during that time period the Church of Sweden, which is a branch of Lutheran Christianity, was the state religion. Leroux writes that Gustuv Daae was, “a peasant who lived there with his family, digging the earth during the week and singing in the choir on Sundays,” which leads me to believe she was Protestant.

I find it quite interesting that Raoul wonders about Christine’s belief system commenting on Madame Valerius’ influence of a simple-mind woman and her dead father who he calls a “superstitious fiddler," perhaps referring to her Protestant roots. Raoul thinks they are foolish to believe in the Angel of Music who comes down from Heaven to haunt the dressing rooms of the Opera.

The theatrical characters are riddled with fear and driven by superstition. As I researched this article, I found some interesting historical references to various theatrical superstitions and especially those involving opera. Leroux states that Sorelli was very superstitious, as well as Gabriel. Theatrical residents were clearly influenced with superstitious fears of ghosts, demons, saints, and angels that resided in their world at the opera house. No wonder having a resident Opera Ghost was such a big deal!

What about Erik? He seems to use religion and superstition to his advantage. Here’s an interesting statement about using superstition as a means of control:

“Poligny was superstitious and Erik knew it. Erik knew most things about the public and private affairs of the Opera. When M. Poligny heard a mysterious voice tell him, in Box Five, of the manner in which he used to spend his time and abuse his partner's confidence, he did not wait to hear any more. Thinking at first that it was a voice from Heaven, he believed himself damned….”

Erik was also a master at using scripture and religious tones to entice and mesmerize Christine. He plays upon her weakness in believing in the Angel of Music. Christine confesses his influence in the following:

“And then the voice began to sing the leading phrase, "Come! And believe in me! Whoso believes in me shall live! Walk! Whoso hath believed in me shall never die!...' I can not tell you the effect which that music had upon me. It seemed to command me, personally, to come, to stand up and come to it.”

What about Erik’s personal beliefs? Well, clearly he thought himself damned, an Angel of Hell, rather than of Heaven, for which there was no redemption.

What religious terms did Christine use to describe him? She goes from heaven to hell.

"No, he is not a ghost; he is a man of Heaven and earth, that is all."
“He is a demon!”

Then, of course, the references continue from Raoul, the Persian, and everyone else that Erik is akin to the Devil and looks like Satan himself with death's head.

Religion in our lives and our belief systems are a very personal matter, however, it’s very obvious in Leroux’s work, as well as Webber, religion and superstition are influencing all the key players. The Phantom of the Opera is a story of light and darkness, heaven and hell, love and hate, redemption and damnation. Each person’s belief in their own personal way reflects their actions and emotions throughout the story, from Raoul being a practicing Catholic, the simple-minded beliefs of Christine, to the superstitions of the cast. Religion for some of the characters is a guiding light or for others a tool of manipulation. It can comfort the heart at the thought of heaven, or bring terror to the soul at the thought of hell.

Each of us possess some type of personal belief system, and it's those beliefs that guide are lives, morals, and actions in life. You may be deeply religious, a non-believer, or the superstitious type. Even if you believe in nothing, you still believe in something!

I've returned to poke at you again!

The Phantom's Student

3 comments:

rhapsody said...

I find it difficult to relate this story to Leroux's version, as my introduction to these characters was the 2004 movie. I did read the book afterwards, & like most book-to-movie adaptions, I saw a lot of differences...

Generally speaking, the religious comparison I've made is based not so much on what the characters actually said regarding their religious beliefs, but more on what they actually did; Raoul's willingness to sacrifice his very life out of love for Christine, Christine's willingness to sacrifice a life with Raoul out of love for Raoul, & Erik sacrificing (what he thinks would be) his one chance at happiness out of his love for Christine. As a Catholic, it moved me to see such displays of love for another (as fictional as I basically consider these characters to be, despite Leroux's claims) - Erik's being the most heartbreaking as far as this story goes, because he does sacrifice his love for her happiness despite the fact that she would have stayed.

In my opinion, however, from what I gleaned from the movie, it seems to me that Christine was willing to make the best of it, & that there was the possibility that she would not have been unhappy with Erik, once (I'm assuming) he reassured her that Raoul would be let go...

Thank you for the interesting post & opportunity to comment - this is such a neat site, & I'm sure I'll be back again:)

God bless.

rhapsody said...

Although I have not read it yet (I ordered a copy of that issue), I want to leave you a link from a couple of months ago, that mentions an article in the Saint Austin Review that discusses Gaston Leroux & our most-favorite-novel of his:

http://www.staustinreview.com/ink_desk/archives/looking_ahead_to_the_next_issue

andythemisfit said...

Great post! I would also like to add that in the musical version, the way Erik/ the Phantom behaved towards Christine, manipulating her into believing him to be a God-like figure (for a while) and getting angry/jealous when her attention to him was diverted elsewhere i.e Raoul made me think of God as described from the Old Testament Bible.