PHANTOM OF THE OPERA – What Becomes A Legend Most

National Tour is Top Tier in San Francisco

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

PHANTOM OF THE OPERA – now at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre will run until January 4th. The Phantom thinks it’s a great idea to order your tickets on-line, right now: PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. The cast and ensemble of this splendid production directed by Harold Prince represents the finest in National Tours. Production designs by Maria Björnson reflect the beauty and magic of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s powerful and beloved score. The costumes alone recommend the show. Lighting designer Andrew Bridge creates The Perfect atmospheres throughout – from the Mezzanine of the Paris Opera House (don’t ask the attendant about the occupant of Box 5), to the private boudoir-dressing room of the ravishing Christine Daaé (Trista Moldovan), and then to the subterranean locale of an iron-gated Gothic lair of lust and musical madness.

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JOHN CUDIA (the Phantom) & TRISTA MOLDOVAN (Christine). Photo, Cylla von Tiedemann

Though the young soubrette is fast becoming the talk of the town, Christine is listening to the haunting voice of an invisible character – one she believes to be an angel. In fact, he is her vocal coach. The alleged angel believes it’s time for the Paris Opera’s long-winded and aging resident prima coloratura – Carlotta Giudicelli (Kim Stengel) – to kiss today goodbye and point his protégée to center stage by tomorrow. Even the company’s fluttering ballerinas are convinced something sinister is underfoot. Some believe all the recent mischief surrounding Carlotta to be the handiwork of the house phantom (tenor, John Cudia). Perhaps Christine should stay on the safe side, abandon her dream of operatic superstardom and simply yield to the very visible advances of her handsome suitor. Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (Kyle Barisich) knows a few tricks himself. Or will she ultimately submit to the persuasive, recently materialized and curiously masked Angel of Music? After all, the Box Office sold out at her last performance. But now, in return for even greater fame and glory, the now-materialized and tuxedoed phantom is demanding more than her climactic soprano. All she has to do is walk through the mirror. What will it be, Christine? Raoul? Or — this?

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KIM STENGEL (Carlotta Giudicelli). Photo by Joan Marcus

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TRISTA MOLDOVAN (Photo, Joan Marcus) and KYLE BARISICH as Raoul

The book of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe’s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is highly dependent on the original silent film adaptation of the Gaston Leroux novel starring the immortal LON CHANEY. Even at the time of the film’s second Major Premiere – here in San Francisco, Sunday evening, April 26th, 1925 at the Curran Theatre – the film was criticized for its pieced-together plot lines, the out-dated modes or altogether missing talents of its principal cast, and the hack direction of Rupert Julian. But the genius of Lon Chaney would be recognized and his performance exalted in separate discussions. The great actor and master trickster had taken control over his elaborate make-up, character development, and scene direction. On the set, Chaney refused to acknowledge the presence of director Julian. The two communicated through a messenger go-between. When Julian attempted a suggestion, Mr. Chaney’s frequent response was for the director to do unseemly things to himself. A few weeks before the San Francisco premiere, producer Carl Laemmle yanked cameraman Edward Sedgwick into the studio to develop and shoot a number of sub-plots and to create a spectacular chase scene in which Chaney takes off with Christine (Mary Philbin) in a horse-drawn carriage as the entire town follows in hot pursuit – even past the cathedral set from Chaney’s 1923 Hunchback of Notre Dame – eventually forcing the monster phantom to drown in the river Seine. The critics be damned – the San Francisco audience went nuts and launched the film and all its inherent foibles high into the Hollywood Pantheon of Immortal Classics.

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LON CHANEY – at the Masked Ball, in Technicolor, 1925.

What becomes a legend most? Honoring, re-creating, and re-visioning the best of Tradition. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber pushed The Phantom of the Opera through the time-honored musical mode of operetta. He succeeded by blending the essence and flow of the original film, the intentions of storyteller GASTON LEROUX and then blasting a hybrid of vocal styles and instruments through state-of-the art digital sound design. Since its 1986 London premiere, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has passed through every variety of body-mic, sound board, and speaker available. The Traditions of Webber’s musical are currently in full force at the Orpheum Theatre. Again, San Francisco audiences are going nuts.

Click here to order tickets on-line: PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

Add Gaston Leroux’s classic novel to your Library: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA: The Original Novel

Order the 1986 Original London Cast recording: PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

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JOHN CUDIA is The Phantom of Opera – At the Orpheum Theater. Photo, Joan Marcus

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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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