So yesterday I left off wondering what the answer to that first question was: When do I feel most alive?
I should have known that answers where going to start coming from the strangest places, and that they weren’t going to be what I expected.
After seeing the film of “Love Never Dies” Tuesday night, I came home and tried to put the storyline together. It took me a while, and what I found was so much deeper than the superficial impression left by the film.
*****SPOILER ALERT****** The following paragraphs contain details about Love Never Dies, and I MAY accidentally give away the ending, so if you don’t want to know about the show, skip ahead to the next section. Although, I will admit that my conclusions may not make much sense without these following details.
So, we have the same five characters: The Phantom, Christine, Raoul, Madame Giry and her daughter Meg. There is also a new character, a child named Gustave. Here’s all you get as far as the plot goes: Phantom the the Girys have moved to New York where Phantom has purchased a freak show and vaudeville music hall on Coney Island. Meg Giry is the current “star”, Madam Giry still choreographs (and has worked behind the scenes to make Phantom’s new project come to life.) Christine has been invited to sing one aria in the music hall. Raoul is now a drinker and gambler. Their son, Gustave, accompanies them to New York.
I’ve listened to the sound track 5 times, according to iTunes, that musical genius that knows all. Each of the main characters is a personification of something in the music world, and has both good and bad qualities. Just like the rest of us, huh?
Phamtom personifies the appeal of beautiful music to those who earnestly seek it, those who live for the rush of the perfect performance and the genuine appreciation bestowed upon the performer or performers for a job well done Unfortunately, Phantom also personifies the conflict that faces many composers: to write drivel the masses want to hear, or to write the lush melodies and counterpoints that magically appear inside their heads, waiting to be transcribed to paper. The internal purity of composing for the composition’s sake, coupled with the external ugliness of the commercialization of the music industry is obviously represented by the two sides of his face. Phantom seems to believe that Christine is the only “pure” vessel that will appropriately display his compositions. The vaudeville actors and singers, including Meg Ciry, are adequate for his “bread and butter” tunes. He writes for the vaudevillians; he composes for Christine.
Christine is torn between her desire for a “normal” life as a wife and mother and the compulsion she feels to be a better musical artist. She must make sacrifices either way. To keep her family, she must sacrifice her music; to keep her music, she must sacrifice her family. She is looking for the accolades that only the Phantom, the composer, can give. Because she is truly gifted, the genuine approval of the musical community will always be a temptation for her.
Raoul loves Christine. Unfortunately, he does not understand her love for music, her physical need for music. Her desire to perform, and to perform well, has pushed Raoul away from her, leaving him flailing in the mire of drunkenness and gambling. Raoul is also very stand-offish to Gustave, their son, perhaps because he is also musical, or perhaps because Raoul is not confident in his role as Gustave’s father.
Madame Ciry has been there for Phantom since he was a child. She rescued him from the gypsy troupe that first brought him to the Paris Opera House. After the devastating destruction of the Opera House in Paris, she helps him escape detection from the authorities, arranges passage for him to America, along with herself and her daughter Meg, where she hopes to become the Phantom’s companion and confidante, just as she was during their childhood.
Then there’s her daughter Meg, an average singer / dancer who longs for Phantom’s approval, so much so that she will do, and has done, just about anything to gain his approval, acceptance and love.
The conflicts between characters are myriad and complicated. They are revealed during the production in various recitatives that must be pored over multiple times before they start to become clear.
Jealousy runs rampant: Madame and Meg Ciry are jealous of Christine. Raoul is jealous of Christine and of Phantom. The relationships are multi-level and complicated. And the end of the story is devastating.
*****END SPOILER ALERT****** (for the time being)
I am Meg. I long for, have always dreamed of, being the one of the fraction of 1% of those who can play or sing and wring every drop of emotion, praise and pathos, from whatever composition is in front of me. I may have been able to do that at one time, but not now. My time is past. Perhaps, like Meg’s, it never was in the first place.
I am Madame Ciry. I have past my prime, and my purpose is to protect music from the impostors that spring up like weeds daily. I want something to remain of the beautiful music of the last 500 years for my children and grand-children to enjoy. But I haven’t taught them what they need to know, what is worth proecting and what is fit only for the trash bin.
I am Raoul. I want to understand what I’m feeling. I want to understand the jealousy I have for those who are capable of doing what I can’t. But I don’t try to understand it. I run away from it.
I am Phantom. In some ways, I’ve sold out to vaudeville. Only in my world, vaudeville was corporate America; it was, and continues to be, the illness I brought home from corporate America. I don’t know how to find my way back. And I want to produce the gorgeous works that seem to come miraculously from his head. Wonder what life is like for Andrew Lloyd Webber? I can’t imagine.
And I am Christine. I want my family. but I also want to “pay homage to music”, as Phantom says.
And here is the major conflict: If Christine sings, she gives herself over to Phantom completely, and loses her family. If she refuses to sing, Phantom will pay her family’s debts and they are all free to leave.
The problem is that it’s a trap: Phantom owns her either way. If she sings, he owns her musical soul and she must submit to him 100%. If she refuses, he pays her husband’s debts; therefore, he still owns her, and her family, 100%.
Her choice is devastating. She does sing, but no one gets to own her in the end. The aria she sings is the title song, “Love Never Dies”. What I hear in the words is that, no matter what happens to me, or to you, or to music or to whatever you hold sacred, that something will never die.
So, what’s the answer to the question? When do i feel most alive?
When I’m listening to the Brahms Requiem, or Chicago Live at Carnegie Hall, or Vladimir Horowitz, or Lynyrd Skynyrd….or whoever suits my mood at the time. I’m driving in my car, windows down, wind trying to blow through my very short hair, singing (badly) at the top of my lungs.
All by myself. No one to listen. To criticize. To suggest I change this or that. Just me and my ho-hum voice.
Wait…Gustave may be in the passenger seat.