What she means: In The Phantom of the Opera, before everything goes down, how did the phantom “teaching” Christine actually go??? Cause what I’m picturing is Christine sitting in some room practicing away and then the phantom awkwardly shouting something like “less vibrato” from a closet or some crap. Then stupid little Christine going “ *gasp* My angel! My angel of music! Have you come to teach me just as dear father promised?” Then the phantom just being like “uh………….. …yes? *Ahem* Yes! Start again at measure 32!”
(Warning: I do rag on LND a fair amount in this, but I’m pretty gentle. Please don’t feel got at if you happen to like it. My issues with it are plot and character-based. The music’s fine. Except the sex song. Ew.)
Watching the 25th Anniversary of Phantom of the Opera completely reignited my love for the musical, especially since I could now look at it with an adult perspective and do all this fun character analysis.
I found the Phantom - Erik - engaging for similar reasons I found Josh Washington from Until Dawn engaging. A human being that does despicable things, but who is still understandable and sympathetic. If anything, Erik is worse than Josh, because he actually goes into full jealous-lover-control-mode, and he kills a couple of people. And yet I still really, really like him and would have loved to see him get a happy ending.
That said, I still think Phantom’s ending is perfect, because it has Erik making this huge jump in character and performing his first act of legitimate true love: letting Christine go. It’s brilliant, and beautiful, and bittersweet.
Which is why I take such enormous issue with Love Never Dies.
Now look, if you enjoy Love Never Dies, then that’s absolutely fine, more power to you. I absolutely understand why it must be cathartic and gratifying to see Erik and Christine as a legitimate couple. No one should ever try to take that away from you. I have pieces of media that I love, even though I know they’re riddled with flaws and other people might hate them.
The reason I hate Love Never Dies so much is because it removes everything about Erik that I find interesting or even sympathetic. He has tons of money, a support network, already had sex with Christine offscreen somewhere (which I feel totally invalidates the kiss she gave him at the end of Phantom), and a kid - and yet he still acts like he did in the last one, threatening and bullying. It’s like he learned nothing. He’s no longer a tragic character whose actions are understandable: he’s just an entitled douchebag. Also, making Madame Giry and Meg the villains and killing Christine; what the heck was all that about? What in the last story made it even plausible that this is where things would go?
I don’t feel Phantom honestly needed a sequel; the ending was perfect and wrapped up all the loose ends. We don’t know what happens to Erik, but we don’t need to.
That said, the sheer screwing around Love Never Dies does with the story and established characters made me so mad and got under my skin so much that I felt the only way I could purge it from my mind was think up my own sequel idea, one that I tried as hard as I could to keep in line with the story of the original. So that is what I humbly present to you today: my sequel idea to Phantom of the Opera, in place of Love Never Dies. As yet it has no title.
So where could the story go after Phantom? The only thing I could honestly think of was continuing the lesson Erik began learning, i.e how to love. How about he learns about a different kind of love? Say, platonic love, maybe?
Let me tell you a story…
It is five years after the events of Phantom. Christine no longer works at the Paris Opera house, and instead has disembarked to a smaller one elsewhere in the country, where she is much happier with a relatively successful career as an opera singer. Amongst the regulars is a young girl of Romani background whom Christine has taken under her wing. Let’s call her… hmm, what’s a traditional name from that period…? Maria. Let’s call her Maria.
Maria has a very pleasant voice which Christine sees a lot of potential in. Unfortunately the girl lacks technique and has poor breath control. Christine thinks she could become a great singer with the right training, but because Maria comes from a difficult background, no one is willing to spare the time or the money to train her, and because she abandoned her star role at the Paris Opera, and has a growing family, Christine cannot fund her training either. She attempts to teach her herself, but Maria’s progress is slow.
Christine is tempted to send Maria to Paris, hoping that the Phantom may still be living there and might teach her. Her husband Raoul, understandably, is not keen on this plan. (They’d probably have a long duet here weighing up the pros and cons.) Maria overhears their conversation and insists she is not afraid. Eventually they decide it’s possible Erik might have changed and it may be worth the risk. They send Maria to Paris with some funds, a letter for Madame Giry and Meg who are still working at the opera house, a letter for the Phantom if they find him, and a young man Christine employs to look after Maria. This chap is Auguste and he wants to be a doctor. He’ll be important later.
In Paris, Maria and Auguste are greeted by Madame Giry and Meg, who manage to find them some rooms to stay in. Madame Giry and the owners audition Maria and agree that while the girl’s technique is all over the place, if she improves, she may land a job as a chorus girl. Maria and Auguste intend to go searching for the Phantom, but Meg warns them against searching for such a dangerous man. When Auguste and Maria point out that getting lessons from the Phantom is the only reason they are here, Meg reluctantly admits that she believes the Phantom made a new lair somewhere in the Paris catacombs. The next day, the two enter the catacombs, but quickly lose each other in the darkness. Auguste gets out offscreen, but Maria hears eerie organ music playing and follows it, only to come across a dark chamber and the Phantom, though all she can see is a vague silhouette (they could have a lot of fun here with lighting and effects). The Phantom is now sporting a black half-mask instead of a white one, because why not. At first he doesn’t believe that Christine has sent Maria, thinking that she would have tried to forget him. Maria insists:
“She has not. She speaks of you often.” “What does she say of me?” “She says that you were her teacher, and that you were the best.”
The Phantom is still reluctant, but he asks her to sing for him anyway. Maria ends up singing an exercise she used to do with Christine, which turns out to be one which the Phantom taught her. This finally convinces the Phantom to begin training her.
Cut to a month or so later, and under the Phantom’s tutelage, Maria’s voice has grown strong enough that she now has a job as a chorus girl. Hijinks ensue at the Opera house when one of the bitchier girls, Jeanette, sabotages Maria’s performance, but later slips on a wet patch on the stage, earning her a twisted ankle. Auguste cares for her, being a trainee doctor. Meg and Madame Giry wonder if this could be the Phantom’s doing and fear that he may have returned to the opera house, but when they check his original underground lair, they find nothing. Still, stories begin to spread about the opera ghost’s return.
Maria, suspicious, attempts to quiz the Phantom in their lessons, but he keeps the topic strictly on their task, snapping at her if she tries to change the subject. He reveals to her that he is still writing music, and has in fact written a short aria intended for her. Maria is shocked and doesn’t think she’s even close to being ready to perform a solo. The Phantom assures her - surprisingly gently - that he has put in many short phrases, to help with her breath control, and that he believes she will soon be skilled enough to perform it. Thrilled and full of gratitude, Maria kisses his cheek before she leaves, leaving the Phantom stunned.
Later Madame Giry and Meg overhear Maria singing her aria backstage. They suggest she submit it to the opera house’s current owners, and ask the identity of the composer. Maria makes an excuse and leaves, eventually voicing her concerns to Auguste. She has grown to care for the Phantom (basically he’s been playing Grumpy Dad to her), and she wants his music to be heard, but knows he is not welcome here. Christine never told her why, but she did mention the Phantom’s deformed face, so Maria assumes it’s because of that.
To her surprise, the Phantom agrees to submitting his aria, and they put it in under his real name, “Erik”, to avert suspicion.
Rehearsals are under way and the opera house has an unexpected guest: Carlotta, with her new partner. Turns out lovably bitchy Jeanette is her niece. Carlotta expresses distaste that this young gypsy upstart with little experience is going to sing a solo - reminds her of another unfortunate series of events that occurred not too long ago. Cue over-the-top grieving for Piangi. When Maria asks her to elaborate, Carlotta tells the story of how the Phantom abducted Christine and killed both Buquet and Piangi, before disappearing. She insists that the Phantom’s influence alone was what started Christine’s career, that she was never truly talented, and after he disappeared she had nothing left, hence why she moved away.
Maria, of course, tries to protest this, but there are too many questions now, and too few answers. She knows that there’s something really iffy going on and that the Phantom and Christine have both kept lots of things from her. Once again she has a conversation with her teacher, which becomes pretty fiery.
“You know everything you need to.” “You are a man with two faces! You tell me your real name, but you won’t let me see the truth! Christine told me what that mask is concealing; surely it cannot be worse than what I have imagined! I’m a gypsy - I’ve seen my fair share of freak shows!”
The Phantom is incensed, and almost kicks her out, but the sound of the Masquerade music box makes him hesitate. He calms.
“I will tell you - after your performance. As soon as I know your future as a singer will be secure, I will tell you anything you want to know.” “Do I have your word on that?” “You have my word.” He touches his hand to his mask. “You have earned it.”
Première night comes, and Auguste drops a hint to Maria that the Phantom may well attend, in disguise, to watch her sing. He reckons the old grouch has grown - gasp - fond of her. As the final act begins and Maria prepares to sing her aria, she notices a masked figure slip into Box 5 next to Auguste. She sings and gets a round of applause, then pleads with the crowd to meet the composer of the aria, hoping that the Phantom’s different mask (not the half-one this time, but a full-face one vaguely similar to the one he wore during Masquerade) will disguise him.
Unfortunately Carlotta remembers the Masquerade incident and recognises this man as the one who killed her husband, so interrupts and accuses him of Piangi’s murder. When the Phantom doesn’t deny it, Carlotta’s boyfriend, who is a trigger-happy chap at the best of times, fires two shots at him. The first misses, but the second catches his mask a glancing blow, shattering it. Erik flees back to the catacombs and chaos descends on the opera house.
Maria sets off for the catacombs to find Erik, but Auguste begs her not to go.
“I need him to tell me the truth!” “I’ll come with you!” “No - no, I daren’t.
He’ll trust me better if I go alone.
Get help. Hide outside the lair in case something goes wrong.” “Maria - how can you think of going there alone, knowing what he is?” “I’ve always known what he is - but if we don’t give him the benefit of the doubt, he’ll only act as we expect him to. He deserves one chance, Auguste.” “All right. For pity’s sake be careful, Maria.”
She reaches the lair just as Erik arrives, now back in his black half-mask. She is furious with him and gives him a huge mouthful: is it true that he committed those murders? Did he lie to Christine? Has he been lying to her? Should she truly have been afraid of him all along?
Erik denies nothing, and when she’s run her mouth for a while, he admits that it’s true, all of it. Why did she think Christine gave her all those warnings about him? He hoped that by teaching her as Christine requested, and looking out for her, he could atone for the dreadful things he did. But now he knows that the people will never accept him, not just for his deformed face but for the severity of his crimes. He removes his mask to demonstrate: he is a monster inside and out, and he knows it. He cannot run from it, however hard he tries. No wonder Christine walked away.
Then he collapses. Turns out the first bullet did hit him, in the side.
“He shot you!” exclaims Maria. “I didn’t know…” “Of course not. I never said.”
Maria is horrified as she rushes to tend to him. Erik of course goes through that usual tirade that ‘it’s better this way’ and ‘better kill the monster before he harms anyone else’. At this, Maria snaps.
“I don’t think you’re a monster! You’ve never been a monster to me. You were good to me; you taught me. You were strict, you were stern, but you were patient. Christine warned me, she told me to be wary, but you never gave me a reason to fear you. Not even your face.“
Erik is deeply touched at her words, and wonders if by caring for her he has earned a place in heaven, as before him stands an angel, in a form he recognises.
Of course it’s not an angel. It’s Christine. She came to hear Maria sing his music. Because despite the bad history between them, she still cares for Erik, too.
“Why did you return?” “Because I believe you still have so much to give to the world. Hearts soared with your music tonight. You made people happy.”
She’s so proud of him. She heard what Maria said. She feels he’s finally learned to love, and earned someone else’s love in return. It’s not the romantic love he always craved, but it’s love nevertheless.
Following her is Auguste, Meg, Madame Giry and Raoul - and of course Auguste is a trainee doctor. Maria begs him to save her teacher. Auguste says he’ll try - but the wound is very deep… (lights down! Cliffhanger! Aaah!)
An unspecified time later, the opera is preparing for another performance. Madame Giry meets with the opera house owners. It appears the dramatic première night only served to sell out tickets.
“Nasty business, though, very nasty business. You say the man died?” “Indeed Monsieur, there was nothing that could be done.” “Do we know if he truly was this so-called ‘opera ghost’?” “As he died before he could give a confession, I feel we may never know.” “Pity. He may have been a criminal, but the chap wrote good music.”
Meanwhile, Christine, Raoul and Auguste watch Maria sing her final aria. The music swells. The audience applauds - and in a dark, distant corner of the opera house, a man in a mask can be seen, watching.
…Okay, so it is fanficcy, but y’know what, it’s lot less fanficcy than what we got in Love Never Dies. I hope I managed to keep all the returning characters in-character, with their development from the first story intact. No drunken, gambling Raoul, but a sympathetic and cautious one. No villainous Giry or Meg who are loyal to the Phantom for some reason; they’re a neutral force as always. No kid whose parentage drives the plot. An active Christine who makes her own decisions and isn’t treated as an object for the guys to fight over. God, that pissed me off!
Honestly, there was no chance of Christine and Erik getting back together. Their romance is toxic, sorry guys. And their story is over when he lets her go. That said, I didn’t see why Christine couldn’t be part of his later character development. Erik does still angst about her, because she’s the only person who has ever shown him compassion, and she still walked away. Christine could be the catalyst to help him start changing, but for the main lesson, I had to start him afresh with someone else.
I like to think Maria is not a Mary-Sue - for a start she doesn’t hook up with Erik, and she isn’t a singing prodigy like Christine either; she’s got potential, but she needs a lot of work. She doesn’t go searching for Erik in an attempt to ‘fix’ him; she needs something from him. He’s her teacher who at first she cautiously respects, but later grows more attached to as he does legitimately nice things for her. At first Erik only does this to honour Christine’s request, but later it’s because he genuinely wants to. He learns to love, and he also learns that yes, his deformity is a huge social handicap, but if he’s kind and does good things, he can still earn love. That was the best reward I felt I could give him - but he had to earn it, and he couldn’t have everything. After all, this guy’s a murderer. So no, he doesn’t get accepted into society, he doesn’t get Christine - but he does earn applause for his music, he earns Maria’s love, his relationship with Christine becomes a whole lot healthier - and he becomes a better person.
So yeah, if you hate Love Never Dies as much as I do, I hope that was cathartic - at least as much as puncturing an abscess could be.
And to be fair, there is one good thing that came out of that wretched musical: the ultimate Phantom/Christine power duo that is Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess. They met through LND and have since forged a friendship that is the purest, sweetest, cinnamon-coated bond I’ve ever seen. And when they’re playing Erik and Christine, their chemistry is so hot you could fry eggs with it. I absolutely understand why they were picked for the 25th Anniversary version. And they make LND almost tolerable. Almost.