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Phantasmagoria at the Opera

by Rob Scher / Illustration by Andrew Moerdyk / 02.02.2012

In the Phantom of the Opera, Christine Daae is seduced by a spectral voice she believes to be the prophesised ‘angel of music’. He turns out to be a guy who hangs in the basement of the Paris Opera House. Upon this realisation, Christine utters the now famous line, “The Phaaaaantom of the Opera is here, inside my mind.”

Driving along a rain-soaked M3 on the way to the Artscape, Jack and Adam let the Phantom enter their minds. Only this phantom lives on a little square of paper brought from a guy with dreadlocks. It was easy convincing the two to tag along for this review. Whether it was a thirst for expanding their cultural repertoire or an excuse for taking psychedelics in public, they were enthusiastic. I would document the ‘experiment’, acting as shaman to my more than willing participant purveyors of psychedlia.

Act 1: Enter the Phantom
LSD is a bourgeois drug. Apart from San Francisco in the 60’s, a city has never been described as having an ‘Acid Problem’ and I don’t think I’ve ever been offered a ‘tab’ on Long Street. The irony does not escape us as we enter the Artscape to indulge in an equally elitist activity – theatre.

It’s a minefield of distractions. I gently nudge my companions along as they stare for just a bit too long at the two-storey tapestry, luckily the stained glass chandeliers haven’t caught their attention for the moment. Relieved at the proximity of the exit, we take our seats, Adam and Jack taking a particular liking to the velvety fabric covering them.

The show is about to begin and the seats in front of us remain unoccupied, a growing concern for Jack who hates being distracted by late arrivals. Jack is a theatre-Nazi, having already seen the Phantom several times before and possessing a near verbatim knowledge of the lyrics to every song.
“We might as well say goodbye to the first act.” He frantically murmurs.
Luckily the latecomers take their seats and I’m relieved of consoling my melodramatic friend, who is also now well into his trip.

The lights begin to dim. It’s the last chance to talk until interval. Jack’s only able to muster a shrug. Adam offers an observation of the curtains,
“I like the texture, looks like melting clouds.”

Artscape on Acid

The play begins with an auction. A number of dusty items are up for bidding including a creepy music box sporting a monkey with miniature cymbal and a broken chandelier. The story of the chandelier signals the true start to the play as it’s dramatically risen above the front of the audience. I’m reminded why we chose the safe distance of the balcony.

The play is set amidst a trying time for the Paris Opera House. The phantom has been sabotaging the opera and the Prima Donna is refusing to perform. Enter lowly chorus girl, Christine Daae. With no other options she is chosen to replace the prima donna. This is where the show starts to get ‘meta’. The orchestra strikes up and begins performing a piece from a fake opera called Hannibal by Chalumeau. We are suddenly watching Christine performing the role of another character within the play. If this isn’t enough, I’m watching Jack and Adam, mouths agape as they stare transfixed at the shiny things on stage, my own show in itself. I’m starting to feel like an Escher staircase.

The sudden drastic improvement in Christine’s voice is attributed to visits from ‘the angel of music’. An admirer and childhood friend, Raoul, enters the picture. Impressed by her performance he arrives just in time to sweep Christine of her feet. This won’t do for the Phantom, the actual ‘angel of music’. He decides to reveal himself, reflected in her mirror. She faints, cue blasting 80s synth and strobe.

Artscape on Acid

The Phantom is a tragic character. Forced to live a secluded life in the underground vaults of the opera house, he creates a candle-lit grotto that he reveals to the audience as he transports a passed-out Christine by boat into his inner sanctum. Performing the somber, ‘Music of the Night’, we’re shown the gentle side of the spooky guy. “Come with me, and let’s make the music of the night.” He softly coos to a sleeping Christine. Adam offers his whispered observation, “It all seems a bit rapey.”
Up until this point Adam hasn’t really followed the narrative at all, far too distracted by floating candles and such, however his observation is astute. The entire show revolves around Christine’s every move being secretly watched and the phantom’s subsequent jealous wrath as Raoul lays down his game.

Act 2: “They really could do with more fire”
Interval time and we have no choice but to leave the safety of our seats. The interval serves as much of a performance as the first act, only the cast is larger and mostly white middle class.
“Is that Keanu Reeves?” Jack points a bit too obviously at a guy with long black hair wearing a suit.
The gentleman resembles a smartly dressed Keanu from the Bill and Ted period. I explain to Jack that Keanu hasn’t had long hair since the early 90’s. When dealing with someone tripping, sometimes the more obscure explanation is easier than pointing out the other blatant reasons why Keanu Reeves would not be watching the Phantom of the Opera on a Tuesday night in Cape Town. We return to our seats for the second half of the show, featuring a lot more synth, fire and another layer of meta-narrative.

In this half the phantom composes his opera to be performed by his musical inspiration and unrequited love, Christine. Later Jack will share with me his psychedelic-induced theory.
“I reckon the phantom is really Andrew Lloyd Webber himself.” Jack muses between staring at the Indian fabric covering the couch in our lounge.
“And Christine is Sarah Brightman. Lloyd Webber wrote the entire show for her. In return all he really wanted was her love, unfortunately he’s a hideous bastard.”
The show reaches its climax with the phantom finally crossing the line from fun prankster to murderer. I wonder if Lloyd Webber has ever killed someone?

Without giving away too much, the phantom get’s a pity kiss from Christine, then disappears into the fabric of his chair, kind of like what’s happened to Jack and Adam. Curtains fall. It’s all very melancholic.

Acid Phantoms

We return once again to the macro-play of the Artscape foyer. Temporarily losing Jack in the swarm of people exiting the theatre, we locate him near the exit with a stupid grin on his face.
“There must be so many DA supporters here.” He loudly exclaims.
I think it’s time we head home, but not before a detour of Adderley Street to see the Christmas lights.

*Illustrations © Andrew Moerdyk.

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