Saturday, April 10, 2010

Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny in LND

"Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time.
It is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable."
Sydney Smith


This post will be my third in the line of characters to dissect in Love Never Dies. As I continue this journey, I just want to reiterated I’m not here to justify Andrew Lloyd Webber’s tinkering of the characters. If you have read my former posts regarding the original characters in the Phantom of the Opera, you know that I love to dissect their lives and look into what makes them tick as human beings. What motivations drive them to behave as they do? What lessons, if any, can we learn from their behavior or perhaps relate to in our own lives?

Raoul, in Love Never Dies, has changed. Ten years has turned him into a sour apple most of you don’t wish to taste. You have taken the first bite, hated the result, and puckered in disgust. Read on. I am merely here to strip off his mask and examine the pain underneath. You may relate – you may not. Whatever you see inside Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, just remember by his example, sometimes life turns sour and so do we.

Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny

As I did with Meg, let’s take a step back and look at Raoul. The same holds true that he is a bit different from Leroux to Webber, but his personality is one we are acquainted with or so we think. What do we know about him? Well, he’s a mixture of two stories. He met Christine as a young boy, rescued her scarf that ended up in the sea, went off to the Navy, and came back a man who had traveled the world. He dared to cross the societal lines and pursue a girl beneath his status breaking away from tradition and family to marry.

Webber, however, doesn’t go into such depth in his background in the original, but you get the picture. He is the new patron of the Opera House, who sees his childhood sweetheart. The slightly arrogant aristocrat is filled with fanciful romantic intentions, but soon discovers he has a dark rival for Christine's affections. You watch Raoul take a journey from the romantic rooftop under the stars to the bowels of the earth where a noose wraps around his neck. His life hangs in the balance, but he is set free and leaves somewhat changed by the end of the show. He and Christine float off in the gondola and marry; but in this version, it’s after Christine has a moonless night with the Phantom first that leaves her with a son.

It’s now 10 years later. He’s no longer a young man filled with whimsical romantic ideas. Raoul has grown older and changed. He’s irritable, short-tempered, has a gambling habit, and his mistress is alcohol. What happened to Raoul? He was suppose to live happily ever after when he got the girl....right?

Raoul is a man struggling with the past. He thought his revival was dead, but unfortunately, the Phantom is still haunting him and his wife, as he prophetically spoke in the original play. Why? Because the music is still playing folks! It's the one thing that reminds Raoul of the Phantom. Music is an integral part of what makes Christine. She wants to sing music – Raoul hates her music and says it “hurts his head.” (Still singing songs in your head, is he?) Christine wishes to sing – he wishes to clip her wings. He want's to squash what she loves. Why? Well, the answer is obvious - because it reminds them both of him.

Raoul is married to Christine, but he’s no fool. He’s lived for the past 10 years with the realization he cannot give her everything she needs. He only owns half her heart, and no doubt his bruised male ego tells him he’s only half a man. Christine lives with him, but raises a son that is not theirs. It’s a sad affair of two people together in a half-hearted marriage. Christine finds solace for her emptiness in her son. Raoul on the other hand finds solace by turning to other things – the thrill of gambling and the bottle of alcohol that numbs the pain.

When things couldn't be worse, he's lured to Coney Island and discovers the Phantom is still alive. Once again, he faces his enemy for the affections of his wife. Drunk and reflecting, he wonders why she loves him when all he’s given her is sorrow in his attempt to kill the memories of the past. He admits that a different kind of ugliness resides with him – not the outward like the Phantom possesses but the inward. He talks of wearing his own mask – his outward handsome exterior that hides the shame and despair of his own heart. He faces his own demons in a drunken stupor.

Of course, there is more than one demon in Raoul's life, and he arrives to tempt Raoul at his weakest point. They make a bet – two men making a wager to win the heart of one woman. So in a last ditch effort to keep his wife, Raoul swears repentance of his old ways, if she’ll just leave and not sing. One must ask though, were his motivations pure or was he truly sorry for how he treated Christine?

We all know lady luck wasn’t with him on that bet. Christine sings, and he loses everything. He pens a departing letter filled with regrets for being unable to give her what she really needed and leaves her to the Angel of Music to give her what he could not. He is sorrowful, but it's too late. They are no longer the same people. Time, circumstances, and choices have changed them both, and they have drifted apart.

When you take the time to look at each of the characters in LND, you’ll see the theme of regret played in all of them in one degree or the other – the Phantom, Christine, Meg, Madame Giry, and Raoul. I heard it stated long before its release, that LND is a story of regret and truly that theme is prominent.

In conclusion, what can we take away from examining Raoul's journey? Do you relate to Raoul’s pain or not? Do you still see him as just one sour apple of a character? Have you ever drifted apart from a spouse? Have you ever made a choice you regretted? Have you ever looked back on your life and had regrets for how it turned out? Was there a time you sought solace elsewhere in someone or something to kill the pain inside? I think the majority of humanity has dealt with regret. It's how we process it that determines whether we turn into that sour apple or sweet as apple pie.

Raoul is merely human. To compensate for his brokenness, he portrays a rough exterior to mask the pain of a man who couldn't be everything to the woman he loved.

The Phantom’s Student

NOTE: Bravo, by the way, to Joseph Millson, who played the part of Raoul de Chagny in Love Never Dies. He took a controversial role and did a brilliant job portraying the pain of one man who lost everything, giving the audience the capacity to feel sympathy for him rather than loathing. Also, I find it quite interesting if you read about Gaston Leroux's life, that he had a gambling problem and a mistress. The guy was quite colorful in his own life, who squandered and drank away his own inheritance. The similarities are a bit stark, to say the least.


Connie said...

Vicki, I so enjoy these disections. You have great insight and it gets my brain moving as well.
After reading this I realized that Raoul's change is not only not surprizing, but something we should have expected.

He was young, priviledged, raised to except others to bow to his title. Blessed with both a handsome face and a title, he would have had women constantly at his feet. He was blown away by the grownup Christine and naturally expected her eager acceptance.

Then Phantom took her, and Raoul, filled with confidence, rushed to save her. Then, when he arrived he was totally outmatched by Phantom. Suddenly he has a rope around his neck and the would-be hero now must be rescued himself by the "helpless" girl he came to save. "Forgive me, Christine. I tried so hard to save you."

He watches as the innocent girl literally matures into a woman in front of his eyes. He sees the kiss she gives Erik and deep in his soul he must acknowlege the love and passion between them. He "wins" the girl completely by default. She opens her heart to his rival who then frees them because of her actions; then sends them both away.

Once the first glow of his technical victory had worn off, he would have realized that he had been in effect, castrated by the events in the Phantom's lair. He sees that part of Christine's heart has been given away for all time. How could he ever fight such a ghost?

They wed but a man in his position at that time would be quite experienced sexually. When he came to his marriage bed, he would have had a least a clue that his bride was not a virgin. Of course, his personality would deny htis and push it to the back of his mind. That blot of knowlege would lie there like a slow growing tumor, fingering into awareness in tiny bits.

His son? No conscious denial of paternity, but that tumor whispered doubts; not enough to bloom into acknowleged questions. Instead the tiny doubts effected the bonding with the child and showed themselves in detatchment and irritation. Christine's intense love for the boy would only have fed these feelings. Unable to explain these whips of feelings to himself and unable to admit that he only had a part of Christine's heart completed his castration.

Is it any wonder that in ten years he had lost all true manliness? His bitterness was as strong as Giry's, but much more subtile and even more destructive. No wonder he was filled with regret at what he couldn't be and couldn't understand.

Vicki Hopkins said...

Connie! You are one that "sees" the beauty underneath. Wonderful assessment.

Cheryl said...

I am not too sure about this, but it has occurred to us, that in Paris, in the late 19th century, Members of the Aristocracy did not go around marrying chorus girls or Opera singers, maybe having one as a mistress, but to pledge to love and protect her and then marry her, I think Raoul was swept up in the romantic Opera, the danger of the Phantom, and the chivalry of the day. I wonder if the Phantom had not intervened in their lives if Raoul would have married Christine or gone the other route? I also feel, maybe a large part of his temperament comes from his parents reaction to such a marriage? Did his parents cut him off without a penny? cast them out with just Christine's voice for income (re he says to Mm Giry in dear Old Friends,"We come to work, the contracts here..." indicating that apart from loathing New York and all things American, that this way of living was not new to them)
I think you have got Raouls character down to a 'T'. Thank you :-)

Anonymous said...

An interesting and I think fair analysis; my own reaction to "Love Never Dies" was to find myself unexpectedly intensely partisan on Raoul's behalf. What we are shown (as opposed to what we are being told) about him there would suggest that Raoul is actually having an extremely unpleasant time and reacting according...

In the opening scene, after all, he is trying to protect his family from being mobbed by tabloid reporters while being thrust into the humiliating role of "Mr Christine Daae" and subjected, probably for the first time in his life, to the full muckraking assault of the English-speaking gutter press. To the Americans he is nothing more than a trophy husband and potential fodder for the gossip columns (I can't help wondering if Lloyd Webber's own experiences with the tabloids fed into this scene). Then when they finally get out of the public eye, he has to deal with a small boy who can't take No for an answer (if Gustave goes on like that all the time, it must be extremely wearing on his father!) and a wife who waves off all his concerns with a patronising "Yes, dear" and "I'm sure they didn't mean it": this is clearly intended to come across as poor saintly Christine being bullied by her thoughtless brute of a husband, but it must get extremely frustrating for Raoul.

And so on throughout the first act, from Gustave's habitual disappearing act to Mme Giry's insinuation that not only are they in the humiliating position of finding themselves paid employees of the Phantom, but that Christine is in on the whole scheme from the start. So it's not exactly a surprising revelation in Act 2 to find that Raoul's behaviour is because he is bitterly unhappy and filled with self-hatred and remorse at what he has become. So he drinks. So he behaves worse. So he feels worse about himself. So he drinks...

Anonymous said...

I think the character of Raoul attracted me because he feels guilt and undergoes development in the course of the show: he is the flawed anti-hero who ultimately sacrifices his own happiness for Christine, not the Phantom (who undergoes no development to speak of, and whose desires are practically canonised by the book and lyrics). Raoul is well aware that he is acting badly and despises himself for it; his tragedy is that he cannot confide his sense of inadequacy in Christine, at once the only person who has a hope of healing his demons and the one to whom above all he feels compelled to put on an act. But he does love her, and believes that she still loves him though he does not deserve it.

One may note also the difference between his reaction to the suggestion of doubt of Gustave's paternity and the Phantom's: the Phantom rushes to attack Christine's actions and browbeat the truth out of this woman he supposedly adores blindly, whereas Raoul refuses to believe his enemy's accusations and reacts by begging his wife to let him take her and their son back to safety. He doesn't demand to know the truth: he doesn't threaten to disown the boy or to disgrace his faithless wife. Christine matters more.

(And he chooses not to reveal the truth about the Phantom's 'bet' in his farewell letter; he allows his wife to believe that he is forsaking her of his own free will and refrains from destroying her happiness with her so-called Angel via the disclosure of the sordid terms on which he gambled. Admittedly it would have been more admirable if Raoul had told her *before* she was due to sing -- but after the show he has nothing left to lose, yet still takes 'the honourable path'.)

I think there's a lot of fascinating material to be glimpsed around the edges of LND's treatment of Raoul, and it's frustrating that the show keeps trying to stuff this very human character back into the straitjacket of the lovestory of Poor Erik and his Christine. Arguably the relationship of Christine and her Raoul -- glimpsed largely by implication and what is hinted at -- is the most complex and interesting part of the show: it was certainly what I ended up taking away from it.