"The Phantom of the Opera" tells the story of a supposedly haunted 19th century Parisian opera house. Based on the 1911 novel "Le Fantome de l'Opera" by French author Gaston Leroux, the story became a 1925 film starring Lon Chaney before resurfacing again in 1986 as the basis of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical.
Gaston Leroux (1868-1927) was a French journalist and author of "Le Fantome de l'Opera." He worked as a court reporter and drama critic. Leroux also wrote mystery, adventure and horror fiction, inspired by similar stories by Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and Stendhal. In 1896, he wrote an article about the death of a construction worker at the Paris Opera House. The man was killed when one of the chandelier's counterweights fell, an event that would later show up in Leroux's novel. Leroux died at the age of 59 in Nice, France.
"The Phantom of the Opera" takes place in Paris during the 1800s. The story is centered around the Paris Opera House, where employees whisper about a ghost. However, the "phantom" is really Erik, a deformed man who hides out beneath the theater. Erik perpetuates the phantom story, forcing the managers of the theater to pay him and reserve a box for him during each show. However, things begin to change when Erik falls in love with chorus girl Christine.
The most famous incarnation of the Phantom is Webber's 1986 musical. As of 2011, it is Broadway's longest running show ever, overtaking "Cats" in 2006. It has been translated into 14 different languages and more than 100 million people have seen the play in 149 cities throughout the world. The original cast album soundtrack entered the British music charts at number one, the first time ever a musical ever did so. In 2004, Joel Schumacher directed a film version of the musical, starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum.
Fact and Legend
In the prologue of his novel, Leroux claimed that "the Opera ghost really existed." Even today, some people believe that the Paris Opera House is really haunted. No one has ever seen a ghost in the opera house, although employees regularly receive phone calls asking if the phantom is lurking about. Some people believe that a lake exists under the building because of Leroux's description of the Phantom's underground lair. It is true that the building was constructed atop a source of water, but nothing lies beneath but a huge, stone water tank where Paris firefighters go to practice swimming in the dark.