Review: Phantom of the Opera from Royal Albert Hall (2012)

Showing 1-5 of 5 messages
Review: Phantom of the Opera from Royal Albert Hall (2012) Mark Leeper 3/9/12 3:42 PM
           PHANTOM OF THE OPERA AT ROYAL ALBERT HALL
               (a television review by Mark R. Leeper)

    CAPSULE: A new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's THE
    PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has been made for television to
    be shown on venues like Public Television's Great
    Performances.  This is "a full stage production," but
    presumably the tightness of the Royal Albert Hall stage
    and the inability of the producers to modify the theater
    created technical problems that may have been imperfectly
    overcome.  Still, it is the good story that people have
    come to know.  Quite unexpectedly Sierra Boggess as
    Christine Daae proves to be accomplished as an actress
    as well as singer.  Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

[I will not give a plot synopsis.  I assume the reader can look the
story up on the Internet if it is unfamiliar.]

Really popular musicals go through life stages just as people do.  
They open to large audiences.  Soon it is impossible to buy tickets
for them.  People have to wait months for tickets.  Some people
want to see the plays over and over while others are satisfied
seeing the plays once.  There may be openings in other cities, but
the demand for seats slowly drops.  When there are not a lot of
people willing to pay theatrical prices, there will be a film to
bring the musical to people who do not want to pay the cost of a
live performance.  And finally when the performances and film are
not bringing in much revenue, its last stage is to be produced for
Public Television where the play is given away free to anyone who
wants to record it and is willing to sit through long pledge
drives.  Many people have seen plays like CAMELOT or LES MISERABLES
only on PBS.  Andrew Lloyd Webber's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has
gone through all the stages and in now in the PBS phase with
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA AT ROYAL ALBERT HALL being shown on PBS's
"Great Performances".

The plot is, of course, almost identical to every other production
of the Webber musical.  What specific make this production
different?  Is this a good production?

I have been told by a friend who knows ballet that the dance
portions of the performance were not really up to snuff.  She said
they seemed dull to her.  I am not that much of an expert.  I
noticed problems I previously had seen in other productions.  
Christine Daae's victory over Carlotta seems to come from singing a
song with naturalistic style while Carlotta seems to be singing
with coloratura.  The two performances cannot be compared directly
in that way.  If an opera calls for an aria (in this case "Think of
Me") to be sung with coloratura, that is how it is sung.  The
singer is not given a choice, I believe.  We modern listeners
prefer a naturalistic style, but the fact that Christine sounds
better to our ears when she sings in that style means little.

In the inner play, the production of the Phantom's opera, the
Phantom secretly replaces another singer and sings in his place.  I
think that opera fans know singers' voices enough so that when the
Phantom takes the place of another singer it would be noticed
immediately by a lot of people.  It is like if Bobby Darin was
substituting for Frank Sinatra--people would notice it is a
different voice.

I did notice something positive about this production.  Most
Christines have limited facial expression.  They may smile or frown
but give not much expression.  Emmy Rossum in Joel Schumaker's film
version and she has very limited facial expression.  This
production's Christine, Sierra Boggess, acts and reacts with her
face.  She was not only a good actress; her created Christine was a
better actress in the Don Juan subplay than the real Emmy Rossum
was in the Schumaker film.

There are several visual problems with this production.  Generally
for a play, particularly a major one expecting a long successful
run, architectural modifications to the theater can be arranged.  
If a trap door is needed in the floor, for example, one can be cut.  
Sets may take weeks to build.  I suspect that a theater requires a
good deal of tailoring over a period of weeks for a spectacular
play like PHANTOM with its swinging chandelier and underground
grotto with boat.  Staging PHANTOM for one made-for-TV performance
it is unlikely that Royal Albert Hall could be so obliging.  
Certain expedients would have been necessary.  The chandelier does
not fall on the audience as written in the play but instead just
explodes a bit.  It is hard to believe it as a real, effective
terrorist act--which is what the play calls for it to be.  There
was probably insufficient room for the massive sets the play calls
for.  Instead this production makes use of giant flat-screen
televisions for the backgrounds.  It is an ingenious solution to
their problem, but it is not very convincing for the viewer.  The
television scan lines are much too obvious and distracting.  The
mirror that the Phantom appears behind also seems like a flat
screen television.  This gives the audience a large image of
Christine that can be seen from the back row, but it was
prerecorded, so Boggess on the stage has to try to mimic its moves
like Groucho and Harpo in DUCK SOUP.  Another thing that does not
work, though it is common musicals these days, is to put all too
visible and obvious sound mikes on the singers.

In the casting there is sort of a visual joke that the major opera
singers are corpulent.  Wendy Ferguson as Carlotta is rather
portly, but this does not work.  The Webber play calls for Carlotta
to be lithe enough to play a pageboy.  Admittedly in producing an
opera a singer's voice is considered more important than the
singer's appearance.  But that would not be true of the pageboy,
which is a silent role.

The costumes are as ornate as in the stage versions I have seen,
but I think that the Schumacher film is more ornate.  That film is
really a visual masterpiece.  One place where the Albert Hall
version works better than the Schumacher visually is with the
Phantom makeup.  The Phantom is supposed to look acceptable while
he is wearing the mask but to look really nightmarish without the
mask.  That is a difficult constraint, but the Royal Albert Hall
makeup is probably as effective and horrific as from any dramatic
version of the story.

In what appears to be an error, at least twice when Phantom Ramin
Karimloo appears to be singing, his voice seems to be cut from the
soundtrack.  His mouth moves but there is no sound on the
soundtrack issuing from his mouth.  In the roof scene and just
after the kiss at the end, his mouth is seen to move, but nothing
is heard.  I am guessing this is an editing mistake or it was
decided that some lines had to be cut.

The pacing feels slow in the early parts of the story, but that
might have been because I am used to the released album, which is
somewhat cut down from the play as it is usually performed.

Originally when the play was new, the audience was kept in suspense
as to what the Phantom would look like.  His face is first seen
dramatically in Christine's mirror.  This production, directed by
Nick Morris and Laurence Connor, has the Phantom on stage,
apparently playing an organ, shown under the opening credits.  I
suppose it is assumed that people now know what the Phantom from
the Webber play usually looks like.

By this point any production of Webber's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
should benefit from the other productions that have gone before.  
And this is still a very moving play.  It has its own virtues and
its own faults, many of which might be the result of staging in the
Royal Albert Hall.  This staging has its own unique faults among
its virtues.  I would rate PHANTOM OF THE OPERA AT ROYAL ALBERT
HALL a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits: <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2077886/>

What others are saying: <http://tinyurl.com/void-phantom>


                                        Mark R. Leeper
                                        Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper
Re: Review: Phantom of the Opera from Royal Albert Hall (2012) Pete 3/14/12 1:10 PM
In article <32603051.1188.1331336575448.JavaMail.geo-discussion-forums@vbcu2>,
Mark Leeper  <mle...@optonline.net> wrote:
>            PHANTOM OF THE OPERA AT ROYAL ALBERT HALL
>               (a television review by Mark R. Leeper)
>
>Really popular musicals go through life stages just as people do.  
>  [.....]          And finally when the performances and film are
>not bringing in much revenue, its last stage is to be produced for
>Public Television where the play is given away free to anyone who
>wants to record it and is willing to sit through long pledge
>drives.
A slight correction here...  It was not produced "for" PBS.  It was
broadcast live to theatres all around the world six months ago on
the actual 25th anniversary.  I'm sure its costs were covered by that.
PBS just acquired it later -- as it always does... (:-))
>
>There are several visual problems with this production.
> [.....]                                                   There
>was probably insufficient room for the massive sets the play calls
>for.  Instead this production makes use of giant flat-screen
>televisions for the backgrounds.  It is an ingenious solution to
>their problem, but it is not very convincing for the viewer.

I disagree.  I found the video backdrops to be rather effective.
Given the limitations of the Albert Hall, which is a concert venue,
not a theatre with wings and flys etc., I thought it was a clever
solution.  [And when is a stage set ever "convincing"? (:-))
Dramatic, yes, but realistic?]  As far as I could tell, actual
backdrops and a curtain were used behind the orchestra up top.
I liked the way the real curtain was sync'ed with the video one
at stage level.
 
>                                      Another thing that does not
>work, though it is common musicals these days, is to put all too
>visible and obvious sound mikes on the singers.

Funny, but again that doesn't bother me at all.  I notice their
presence, but given the improvement to the sound balance, I easily
accept it.
>
>
>
>In what appears to be an error, at least twice when Phantom Ramin
>Karimloo appears to be singing, his voice seems to be cut from the
>soundtrack.  His mouth moves but there is no sound on the
>soundtrack issuing from his mouth.  In the roof scene and just
>after the kiss at the end, his mouth is seen to move, but nothing
>is heard.  I am guessing this is an editing mistake or it was
>decided that some lines had to be cut.

Yes, that was very strange.  I happened to have subtitles on
(see below) and words were displayed despite the silence!  I suspect
this was in the actual performance -- they probably keep the mikes off
when the actor is silent, and maybe it didn't get switched on at the
right time.
>
I think the orchestra was much larger than the usual stage version.
I wonder if the used the Hall's organ, or if it was still pre-recorded?

One advantage of watching on TV [that I finally realized, now that
I have a CC capable TV!] is that I can turn on closed-captioning and
actually get all the words in a musical, and be able to follow the plot...  
Between that and Wikipedia, I at last have the story fully fleshed out!
I actually saw the original production with Michael Crawford in London,
but much of it was a bit hard to follow.

        -- Pete --

--
============================================================================
The address in the header is a Spam Bucket -- don't bother replying to it...
(If you do need to email, replace the account name with my true name.)
Re: Review: Phantom of the Opera from Royal Albert Hall (2012) Mark Leeper 3/17/12 12:05 PM
On Wednesday, March 14, 2012 4:10:29 PM UTC-4, Pete wrote:
> In article <32603051.1188.1331336575448.JavaMail.geo-discussion-forums@vbcu2>,
                                               There
> >was probably insufficient room for the massive sets the play calls
> >for.  Instead this production makes use of giant flat-screen
> >televisions for the backgrounds.  It is an ingenious solution to
> >their problem, but it is not very convincing for the viewer.
>
> I disagree.  I found the video backdrops to be rather effective.
> Given the limitations of the Albert Hall, which is a concert venue,
> not a theatre with wings and flys etc., I thought it was a clever
> solution.  [And when is a stage set ever "convincing"? (:-))

When it gives an impressionistic look of what would be the real background.  Higher definition might have worked, but the scan lines called attention to themselves and were a real distraction.  As I said the solution was ingenious, but it did not really work for me.


>  
> >                                      Another thing that does not
> >work, though it is common musicals these days, is to put all too
> >visible and obvious sound mikes on the singers.
>
> Funny, but again that doesn't bother me at all.  I notice their
> presence, but given the improvement to the sound balance, I easily
> accept it.

I find it out of place.  It pulls me out of the story and reminds me I am watching an artificial stage production.

> I actually saw the original production with Michael Crawford in London,
> but much of it was a bit hard to follow.

I did too, very shortly after the opening.  I happened to be in England for the World Science Fiction Convention.  We had heard it was going to be starting.  Had no idea what Webber could do with the story, but we like the story and were curious.   So we sent for tickets asking how bad can it be.  By the time we got to London we could have resold our tickets for a very tidy profit.  I think the production was so new that they did not have backdrops for the roof scene.  Waiting for it to begin the audience started applauding.  There was nothing happening on the stage and could not figure out what people were clapping.  Apparently below our balcony some woman named Thatcher had come in and sat down.  (But we did not see/hear Brightman.  They had a stand-in for her.)

-- Mark
Re: Review: Phantom of the Opera from Royal Albert Hall (2012) Pete 3/18/12 1:54 PM
In article <5237489.2836.1332011134263.JavaMail.geo-discussion-forums@vbze11>,
Mark Leeper  <mle...@optonline.net> wrote:
>On Wednesday, March 14, 2012 4:10:29 PM UTC-4, Pete wrote:
>> In article <32603051.1188.1331336575448.JavaMail.geo-discussion-forums@vbcu2>,
>                                               There
>> >was probably insufficient room for the massive sets the play calls
>> >for.  Instead this production makes use of giant flat-screen
>> >televisions for the backgrounds.  It is an ingenious solution to
>> >their problem, but it is not very convincing for the viewer.
>>
>> I disagree.  I found the video backdrops to be rather effective.
>> Given the limitations of the Albert Hall, which is a concert venue,
>> not a theatre with wings and flys etc., I thought it was a clever
>> solution.  [And when is a stage set ever "convincing"? (:-))
>
>When it gives an impressionistic look of what would be the real
>background.  Higher definition might have worked, but the scan lines
>called attention to themselves and were a real distraction.  As I said
>the solution was ingenious, but it did not really work for me.

This may actually have been a problem only for us TV viewers.  For
the audience in the hall they were probably no more noticeable than
those on any normal TV screen.  We only saw them (out of focus) when
the camera zoomed in on an actor.
>
>
>>  
>> >                                      Another thing that does not
>> >work, though it is common musicals these days, is to put all too
>> >visible and obvious sound mikes on the singers.
>>
>> Funny, but again that doesn't bother me at all.  I notice their
>> presence, but given the improvement to the sound balance, I easily
>> accept it.
>
>I find it out of place.  It pulls me out of the story and reminds me I
>am watching an artificial stage production.

I'm always aware of that, though.  I approach a stage production differently
from a movie, where of course the illusion of reality *is* paramount.
There are other art forms where 'technique' is an important and visible
part -- a Picasso, for example.

Still. a personal reaction is a personal reaction...
>
>> I actually saw the original production with Michael Crawford in London,
>> but much of it was a bit hard to follow.
>
>I did too, very shortly after the opening.  I happened to be in England
>for the World Science Fiction Convention.  We had heard it was going to
>be starting.  Had no idea what Webber could do with the story, but we
>like the story and were curious.   So we sent for tickets asking how bad
>can it be.  By the time we got to London we could have resold our
>tickets for a very tidy profit.  I think the production was so new that
>they did not have backdrops for the roof scene.  Waiting for it to begin
>the audience started applauding.  There was nothing happening on the
>stage and could not figure out what people were clapping.  Apparently
>below our balcony some woman named Thatcher had come in and sat down.
>(But we did not see/hear Brightman.  They had a stand-in for her.)
>
You probably had better seats than we did.  I was back in London for
Christmas, and I wanted to take Mum to the show, so I queued and got
some 'last-minute' tickets.  When we got to the seats, we discovered
why they were last-minute... A balcony pillar was right in the way of
some of the action!

Amyway, I can see you and raise you on Celebrity Theatre Encounters!
It was a long time ago, but Dad took the family to some show or other
[no idea what it was now]. We had good seats in the Stalls, and there
were three aisle seats next to us vacant.  Just before curtain time,
to take those seats, in trooped Princess Margaret, Tony Armstrong Jones,
and Peter Sellers!!  There was no communication... (:-()
Re: Review: Phantom of the Opera from Royal Albert Hall (2012) Steve Newport 3/28/12 3:10 PM
I found the original stage production surprisingly dull, and I couldn't
make it all the way through the theatrical film on TV.

**********************************
"March went out like a lion, a whippin' up the water in the bay..."--
Oscar Hammerstein II