The Phantom of the Opera is a legend.
The Phantom of the Opera is a monster.
The Phantom of the Opera is a tormented genius, obsessed with revenge against the world that rejected him.
The Phantom of the Opera is a symbol of romance, a person who will do absolutely anything for love.
The Phantom of the Opera is a nightmare, the nameless, shapeless form too horrible ever to be seen.
The Phantom of the Opera is a singular paradox: a monster with pathos, a being who evokes both sympathy and horror. He is a person we simultaneously pity, admire, and despise.
Gaston Leroux provides only the briefest sketch of the Phantom's history. He fled his home at an early age, traveling between fairs where he was exhibited as a "living corpse". He served the Shah of Persia and the Sultan of Constantinople. He recalls wistfully how he "made the little sultana laugh" with his cruel and inventive methods of executing prisoners.
The 1925 silent film with Lon Chaney reveals that the Opera House is built on top of medieval dungeons and torture chambers where the Phantom was himself imprisoned during the second revolution. It further reveals that he is an escapee from the Devil's Island colony for the criminal insane.
The 1943 movie with Claude Rains contains an entirely different origin story. A young composer attacks the publisher he believes is trying to steal his music, then is horribly disfigured by etching acid thrown in his face.
The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical emphasizes the bitter, self-pitying Phantom, condemned for his appearance from the very moment of his birth.
<div style="margin-left: 30pt;">
*This face which earned a mother's fear and loathing*
*A mask, my first unfeeling scrap of clothing*
The Maury Yeston / Arthur Kopit musical presents a different version. His mother's love blinded her to his ugliness, allowing her to look on him without fear. The true horror of his own face came to him as a terrible discovery later in childhood.
<div style="margin-left: 30pt;">
*Remember the day I looked down into the water? I thought I'd seen a sea monster! I had. That's the irony.*
Despite their differences, all sources agree on certain details: he is brilliant, violent, merciless, and hideous beyond description.
Which aspect of the Phantom legend most appeals to you?
(link: "The psychopathic Phantom, born without a conscience, totally devoid of fellow feeling for the rest of humanity.")[(set: $warmth to $warmth-1)(go-to: "prologue 2")]
[[The avenging Phantom, determined to punish all those who hurt him.->prologue 2]]
(link: "The romantic Phantom, living for his art, motivated solely by love of beauty.")[(set: $warmth to $warmth+1)(go-to: "prologue 2")]The original Phantom was a gothic figure, masked and cloaked, making his subterranean lair on the shore of an artificial lake deep below the Opera House. Even in the 19th century, he was already nearly as out of place as he would be in the 21st. If you wish we can update him to someone better adapted to life in the modern world.
What type of Phantom would you like?
(link: "A traditional Phantom")[(set: $phantomType to "traditional")(go-to: "act i title")]
(link: "A modern Phantom")[(set: $phantomType to "modern")(go-to: "act i title")]
(track: 'prologue', 'fadeout', 3)You step outside into a glorious morning. The sun is golden, with just a hint of autumn chill in the air. The trellised roses growing along the front of the building are luminous. Even the noises of the city are somehow more melodic than usual. If you believed in omens, which you do not, you would certainly take this as an auspicious day.
Your neighbor Mr. Murkowski is just coming in. "Morning Christine," he says. "How're you today?"
(link: "\"I'm fine. You?\"")[(set: $choice to "")(go-to: "audition 2")]
(link: "\"I have an audition. Wish me luck.\"")[(set: $choice to "audition")(go-to: "audition 2")](if: $choice is "audition")["Good luck! Where is it this time?"
"Hey, that's great! Knock 'em dead."
"Thanks. I will."](else:)["Not bad. Well, see you around."]
With a nod, he walks past you into the building.
Murkowski, of course, has no idea how important today is, and probably would not understand if you tried to explain. This is what you have been working toward for half your life. From your earliest parts in high school musicals, to your countless performances in college and hard work as a music major, then moving on to roles with the city's semi-professional theater groups. And now after all the years, the practice, the lessons, the rehearsals, the successes and the setbacks, you are about to audition for City Opera. If this goes well, you will finally have achieved your dream of becoming a professional opera singer.
Half an hour later, you emerge from the subway station just down the street from the Opera House. You climb the marble stairs past the white columns to the huge front entrance. For years you have vowed you would perform here. Maybe, just maybe...
Inside the lobby, a handwritten sign bears the word AUDITIONS with an arrow pointing the way. You follow more signs to a corridor leading into the rear area behind the theater. You find two people sitting at a small folding table where you check in, and then one of them leads you to a dressing room.
"You can warm up here," he says. "I'll come back when they're ready for you. It should be about twenty minutes."
You thank him, then begin warming up: first scales, then arpeggios, starting in the middle of your range and working out toward the ends. Down the hall you hear another soprano doing the same. The person auditioning before you? As you settle into your routine, you cease to notice her and let everything fade away except the sensations of your own voice. When the man returns, you are hardly aware of time having passed.
"They're ready for you now. This way."
You follow him to what is clearly a practice room. A piano stands in the middle of the room with a semicircle of chairs arranged around it. There are half a dozen people, not counting the accompanist. You recognize the music director and the company manager. The others are unfamiliar to you.
How are you feeling at this moment?
[[Nervous. So much depends on this audition.->audition 3]]
[[Confident. I know I'm ready for this.->audition 3]]
[[Detached. Auditions are just part of the job, and I'm used to them.->audition 3]]They greet you politely, ask a few meaningless questions, and then it is straight to business. You hand your music to the pianist: *Ah! je ris de me voir si belle*. He strikes the opening chords and you begin.
You refuse to let yourself think about the audience. You have rehearsed this aria countless times. This is just one time more. You perform every note, every gesture, every subtle shade of expression exactly as you have practiced. Do you sing well? You have no idea. This is not the time to think about that.
When you finish, the listeners give no sign of approval or disapproval. They thank you politely, and that is that. You take your music, say a few words you have already forgotten moments after they leave your mouth, and make your way back out by retracing your steps the way you came.
Another day, another audition, which might or might not lead to another role. The life of the aspiring opera singer.
When you come to the lobby, you notice the house doors are standing open. Acting on impulse you step through them into the theater. The house lights are off. Everything is dark but for a few emergency lights and the one beam coming from the lobby behind you. You walk slowly down the aisle, drinking in the atmosphere of the silent, empty hall. You imagine the seats filled with rapt spectators, an orchestra filling the house with music, and yourself standing upon that darkened stage.
You turn around in surprise. The voice came from the balcony above you. You strain your eyes to make out the speaker, but his form is lost in shadow.
"Yes?" you ask.
"You sang very beautifully. But with proper application I believe you could become much better still."
This must be one of the people from your audition. You are unsure how to take his statement. As a compliment? A rejection? You are certainly not used to such bluntness from your auditioners.
"Thank you," you say, judging this to be the safest reply.
"I would like to offer my services to you as a teacher."
"Excuse me," you ask, "but who am I speaking to?"
"My name is Erik. I have been associated with the opera for many years in the capacity of vocal instructor."
That answer takes you by surprise. You had thought you knew all the top voice teachers in the city, but you have never heard of him before.
(link: "\"I already have a voice teacher.\"")[(set: $choice to "teacher")(go-to: "audition 4")]
(link: "\"I would be honored.\"")[(set: $choice to "")(go-to: "audition 4")]
(if: $choice is "teacher")["No, you don't. At least not one who understands how to properly train your voice." He states this as a simple fact. "Shall we say 9:30 tomorrow morning for an initial lesson? If you then decide you would rather stay with your current teacher, I promise not to take offense."](else:)["It will be my honor to teach you. Shall we say 9:30 tomorrow morning?"]
"Alright," you say. Then, thinking of an important matter, you ask, "How much do you charge for lessons?"
"There is no charge for members of the company. This is my job."
"But I'm not a member of the company."
"You will be soon enough. I will meet you at the side entrance to the Opera House. Until tomorrow, Miss Daae."
Before you can think of a reply, you hear footsteps receding from the balcony, and then he is gone.
You draw a deep breath. Did that really just happen? He said you would be accepted into the company. Surely he must be speaking out of knowledge, then, and your audition was successful? You can only hope. But you firmly determine not to start counting on anything until you receive an official notice.
[[Continue->lesson 1]]You arrive at the side entrance to the Opera House at 9:30 sharp the next morning. The door is unlocked and opens into a corridor. You look in both directions and see no sign of anyone, so you settle yourself to wait; but only seconds later, a voice speaks behind you.
"Good morning, Miss Daae."
You turn around to greet Erik, and then do a double-take as his appearance registers on your mind.
(if: $phantomType is "modern")[He is wearing a mask that completely covers his face. You almost laugh at the incongruousness of it. In all other respects he is dressed as if for a business meeting. He wears a sharply tailored suit with a white shirt and red necktie. His hair is neatly combed. His expensive looking shoes are spotless. But his face is entirely obscured by a wooden mask, realistically painted to look like a handsome man with a neutral expression.](else:)[He presents a thoroughly romantic but anachronistic figure. He is dressed in an elegant, old fashioned evening suit. Draped over his shoulders is a long black cape. And most peculiar of all, his face is entirely covered by a blank white mask. He looks for all the world like a character just stepped out of Verdi's *A Masked Ball*.]
"Please forgive my appearance," he says rather apologetically. "I see you are startled by the mask. I'm afraid my face is somewhat disfigured, and I prefer not to display it. I trust you will understand my sensitivity on the subject."
You pause, trying to decide how you feel about it.
[[It makes me nervous.->lesson 2]]
[[Artists do strange things. I'm used to it.->lesson 2]]"Of course," you say, trying not to feel awkward.
He leads you downstairs to the basement; then down another flight of stairs to the sub-basement; and then, to your astonishment, down yet another flight. How deep does it go? You emerge into a vast, dimly lighted space filled with old sets and props covered in dust cloths.
As he leads you along the narrow aisle, it suddenly occurs to you that you are alone with a man whose face you have never seen. No one knows where you are. Quite likely no one would hear if you were to cry out. Trying to be inconspicuous, you feel in your pocket for your key ring and insert the keys between your fingers, ready to serve as impromptu brass knuckles. Just in case.
Erik appears oblivious to your concern. He leads you to a small room containing(if: $phantomType is "modern")[ two chairs, some music stands, and an electronic keyboard](else:)[, of all things, an antique parlor organ]. He sits down at the keyboard and gestures for you to stand in front of him.
"Repeat these notes on the syllable *la*."
He plays a sequence of three notes. You open your mouth to sing them back; but before you can get out the first note, he interrupts you to correct your posture, then to adjust the position of your jaw.
This time you get through all three notes before he launches into a discussion of the proper shape of your tongue. The next half hour is a succession of vocal exercises, almost none of which, it appears, you know how to perform correctly. You spend several minutes on a series of stretches to reduce tension between your shoulders.
At last you move on to the aria you sang for your audition. He methodically takes it apart, discussing every note in detail: the meaning of the word, the sound of the syllable, the shape of the line, and how they all work together. The experience is both eye opening and mentally exhausting. You have never studied with any teacher who was half so detail oriented. You have the distinct impression that he sees you only as an instrument for himself to play. He is the one creating the musical performance, not you.
When at last he says, "That will do for today. I will see you at the same time tomorrow?" you can only nod.
As you make your way home, a thought occurs to you. Erik said the mask was to hide his disfigured face. You cannot clearly remember the faces of everyone in your audition, but you are quite certain none of them was disfigured or covered up. So either he was not, in fact, present at your audition, or else he is lying about his reason for hiding his face.
[[Continue->rehearsal 1]]Three days later, the email arrives. You have been accepted into the company. Not only that, but you will understudy the role of Marguerite in the upcoming production of *Faust*.
You pause to let this sink in. You, understudy to Carlotta Biancarolli. You must have impressed them indeed.
Of course Erik already knows. He briefly congratulates you when you appear for your next lesson, then sets you to work without further comment. Only at the very end of the lesson does he offer a word of warning.
"I would advise you not to tell anyone that you are studying with me. I am very selective about who I take on as pupils, and as I am sure you are aware, singers can be... overly dramatic. Mentioning my name is a sure way to create resentment."
And then it is time for rehearsals to begin, and you settle into the familiar routine. The process is much like every other production you have been a part of.
But not exactly the same. The job of opera understudy is an awkward one. Quite likely you will never be called on to perform, but you must be ready to step in at a moment's notice. That means all the work of preparing the role but with none of the glory. Still, it is an essential part of the opera business, and a stage in the careers of many singers. The very fact that you were chosen is itself a compliment. It means they considered you good enough to play the role. Gabriela, the director, even admits that she has had her eye on you for some time, ever since she saw you perform Cunegonde with Civic Light Opera.
And of course, there is always the chance you will end up on stage in the starring role.
Carlotta turns out to be just as much of a diva as everyone says she is. You try hard to stay out of her way and avoid attracting her notice. Her attitudes toward other singers tend to range from condescending to openly hostile, so you judge that the less she thinks about you, the better.
Late in the rehearsal process, a conversation occurs that at the time seems merely amusing, but in retrospect takes on deeper significance. You have just finished rehearsing a scene. Meg Giry, a member of the chorus, comes up to you.
"That was so lovely," she sighs. "You sing as if you'd seen the ghost."
You find this statement rather puzzling. Singing beautifully is not the usually reported response to seeing a ghost. And then you notice that she said "the ghost" rather than "a ghost".
"What do you mean?"
"Didn't you know? The Opera House is haunted. We have our very own ghost here."
(link: "\"What sort of ghost?\"")[(set: $choice to "sort")(go-to: "rehearsal 2")]
(link: "\"I don't believe in ghosts.\"")[(set: $choice to "")(go-to: "rehearsal 2")]
"(if: $choice is "sort")[Well,](else:)[It doesn't matter whether you believe in him or not. At least, I can't see any reason why he'd care. Anyway,] it isn't any bad sort of ghost. It's a musical ghost. Some people say he was a famous tenor who died onstage. But other people say that's just romantic nonsense, and he was really a baritone. Anyway, he hardly ever shows himself to anyone. But when he does, that person always goes on to become a wonderful singer."
"That sounds like a useful sort of ghost for an opera to have."
"Yes it is, isn't it? Some people call him 'the angel', but the older members insist he's a ghost, not an angel."
You decline to mention that your own musical skill has a rather more corporeal origin. But whatever the source, you cannot argue with the results. Erik is truly a brilliant teacher. You have learned as much in the past six weeks as you had in the previous two years.
And then time flies by again, and it is dress rehearsal. You watch from a seat in the house. Carlotta sings beautifully, but it is quite obvious to you that she has not been studying with Erik. There are many elements to her performance of which he would disapprove.
No wonder he told you not to mention his name. Giving Carlotta a reason to resent you is the last thing you need.
At the end of rehearsal, Gabriela thanks the company for their hard work. She encourages everyone to go straight home and get a good night's sleep, so as to be well rested for opening night.
The next morning your phone rings. It is Gabriela.
"Christine? I just got word. Carlotta is in the hospital with a bad case of food poisoning. Are you ready to go on tonight?"
Despite everything, you feel a brief rush of excitement. This is your chance to prove what you can do.
"I'll be there," you say.
[[End of Act I->act ii title]]As you sing your final note, Marguerite's last quavering cry of defiance as she turns from Faust and embraces heaven, you know you have done well. Everything has gone perfectly tonight. The music seemed to flow effortlessly from somewhere deep inside you. The role felt natural, intuitive, almost as if you truly were Marguerite. This was the performance you have dreamed of giving. The thunderous applause of the audience only confirms what you already knew: you nailed it.
Afterward, there is jubilation among the members of the company. Everyone wants to congratulate you. Champagne appears from somewhere, and backstage turns into an informal party as people mingle and celebrate. You float happily on a sea of music and adulation.
In the midst of this, Mr. Richards, the company manager, approaches leading a tall, rather handsome man you do not recognize.
"Christine," he asks beaming, "have you met Raoul Dechagny? Raoul, this is Miss Christine Daae."
"Miss Daae," he gushes, "that was truly a magnificent performance. I have never heard Marguerite sung so beautifully before. It was an honor to be present."
"You give me too much credit. It was a privilege to have this chance to sing the role."
"Not at all! Where have you been hiding all this time? I thought I knew Faust like the back of my own hand, and then you appear as an angel from heaven and reveal entirely new depths to the opera."
Raoul Dechagny. The donor whose name appears prominently by the entrance to the Opera House. Also the concert hall and the public library. And who owns probably half the commercial real estate downtown. You smile, offer your hand, lower your eyes, make appropriate responses. But even as your body effortlessly goes through the motions, your mind is racing. This is a man who could make your career, if only you can win his support. But how? If you were to sleep with him, would that help to secure him? Or is it just what everyone does? You try to remember any rumors you may have heard about him, but nothing relevant comes to mind. Well, you will just have to watch closely and follow your instincts. He is a very big fish, and you would never forgive yourself if you did not try to catch him while you have the chance.
You monopolize him in conversation for more than half an hour. By the time he at last makes his apologies and departs, you have flattered his appearance, his taste in music, his knowledge of opera, and his sense of humor. He, in turn, has informed you that you will be singing additional performances—you do not ask how he knows—and promised to come again when you do.
Not a bad beginning, you hope. Under the circumstances, it will have to do.
As you make your way out through the lobby, a familiar voice speaks just behind you.
"Truly the Angel of Music has touched you with his wings."
You turn around, but no one is there. The lobby is empty.
"Erik? Where are you?"
But there is no reply.
When at last you arrive home, it is quite late.
(link: "Go to bed.")[(set: $choice to "bed")(go-to: "act ii 2")]
(link: "Research Raoul Dechagny.")[(set: $choice to "research")(go-to: "act ii 2")](if: $choice is "research")[You stay up for nearly another hour reading everything you can find about him. There are lots of articles discussing his business and philanthropic efforts, but he seems to have done an effective job of keeping his personal life out of the news. You do learn that he is unmarried. (Thank goodness! That is one complication you definitely do not need.) But if he has had any romantic relationships, no one has written about them.
Carlotta is back the next day, recovered from her illness but furious at having missed opening night. Worse, she has read the ecstatic reviews and knows about your triumph. Her temper grows even worse when Richards announces that you will be taking her place for two additional performances later in the run, and worse yet when those performances proceed to sell out.
So much for staying out of her way. Carlotta's vindictive jealousy is now firmly pointed in your direction. She makes sure never to miss a chance to slight you or drop a disparaging remark at your expense.
Of course, everyone in the company understands exactly what she is doing. But even so, this is a problem. Carlotta is a prominent figure in the city's arts community, and she has influence. She could seriously hurt your career if you do not find a way to put an end to her vendetta. How, then, to do it?
(link: "Undermine her position.")[(set: $warmth to $warmth-1)(set: $choice to "undermine")(go-to: "act ii 3")]
(link: "Try to befriend her.")[(set: $warmth to $warmth+1)(set: $choice to "befriend")(go-to: "act ii 3")](if: $choice is "undermine")[Carlotta has decided to try to sabotage you. Very well. Two can play that game, and you have significant skill at it yourself. You also have an important advantage: nearly everyone in the company has felt the sting of Carlotta's tongue at one time or another. Gathering allies proves remarkably easy. It is almost comical how many people are eager to assist by casually dripping criticism of Carlotta into the manager's ear—many of them even believing it was their own idea to begin with.
You also are acquiring a powerful ally.](else:)[You firmly believe that friends are more useful than enemies. Unfortunately, you have never been very good at making friends with other women. In your own mind, you mostly categorize them into two groups: those who are potentially useful to you, and those who are potential rivals. Carlotta plainly sees you as a rival. Could she somehow be persuaded to see you as useful instead? Perhaps, but you cannot clearly see how at present. For the moment, you do the best you can. You avoid responding to her taunts, and make a point of always being polite and respectful toward her. Perhaps in time some further course of action will present itself.
In any case, you are acquiring a powerful ally.] As promised, Raoul Dechagny comes to your next performance. Afterward he finds you backstage. You have a long and pleasant conversation, and he invites you to dinner. Now that you are certain of your footing with respect to him, he never has a chance. Within a few weeks, you are routinely spending nights with him and appearing on his arm at social functions.
Through him, you encounter a world you had hardly dreamed existed: a world of lavish homes, dignified servants, and crowds of hangers-on who are desperate to make a good impression on you. It is, to say the least, a very appealing world. You could be happy making it your permanent home.
Nonetheless, it is perhaps useful to consider your actual feelings toward Raoul. What do you think of him as a man, apart from his money?
(link: "It never occurred to me to ask. He's a billionaire. What else matters?")[(set: $warmth to $warmth-1)(go-to: "act ii 4")]
(link: "He's less arrogant than you would expect someone that rich to be.")[(go-to: "act ii 4")]
(link: "He really is a sweet man once you get to know him.")[(set: $warmth to $warmth+1)(go-to: "act ii 4")]There is one subject you never speak of to Raoul: you do not tell him about Erik. It is not clear to you even in your own mind why you do not. If you were forced to explain, you would simply say that you have nothing to gain by telling him.
You do not tell Erik about Raoul either, but it makes no difference. He knows anyway, and he does not approve. He raises the subject with his usual bluntness.
"You have the potential to become a truly great opera singer. But are you prepared to do what is necessary to make that happen?"
"Of course," you say.
"Then you must dedicate your entire life to music at the expense of everything else. Do you understand? You will never marry. You will never have children. These things are distractions. All other relationships and pursuits must be put aside to focus exclusively on your work. This is what the Angel of Music demands of his devotees."
You have your own opinions on the subject, but you judge it best to keep them to yourself. Not that this matters either: you often have the sensation that he can see every thought passing through your mind. It is so hard to tell what is happening behind that mask, and it makes you feel very exposed in comparison.
Still, you are spending a great deal of time with Erik and engaging in activities together that are, in their own way, very intimate. What is the exact nature of your relationship with him?
(link: "He is useful to my career.")[(set: $warmth to $warmth-1)(set: $choice to "career")(go-to: "act ii 5")]
(link: "I have come to think of him as a friend.")[(set: $warmth to $warmth+1)(set: $choice to "")(go-to: "act ii 5")]
(link: "He understands me in a way that no one else does.")[(set: $warmth to $warmth+1)(set: $choice to "")(go-to: "act ii 5")]Erik himself is something of a puzzle to you. His responses are entirely unique within your experience. The best analysis you can offer of his feelings is to say that he is in love with you, but that this means something different with him than it does with other men.
Of course you have long understood the power you possess over men. And of course you know all the little tricks to make the most of it: the head tilt, the way to turn your body so as to best show off the shape of your breasts, the half smile that so many men find irresistible. You have come to do all these things habitually, almost without thought. And you are quite certain that Erik is affected by them—but in an aesthetic rather than a sexual way. He acknowledges each flirting gesture, he appreciates it, and then he incorporates it into the performance he is crafting for you.
(if: $choice is "career")[You are coming to recognize that a covert struggle is in progress between you. Each of you possesses something the other needs: your beauty and his musical genius. But each of those is backed by an ambition and strength of will that demands to rule. Together you are creating something glorious that neither one could create alone. But which of you will ultimately wield control over it?](else:)[Your relationship is first and foremost an artistic collaboration. Each of you possesses something the other needs: your beauty and his musical genius. Together you are creating something glorious that neither one could create alone. Birthing that creation into the world is the ultimate goal of everything you do together.]
For some time a suspicion has been growing in your mind. You consider various ways of trying to confirm it, and finally decide to simply ask.
"Who else in the company do you give lessons to?"
He pauses for a moment before replying.
"At present, you are the only one."
That is what you suspected. No one else displays the marks of Erik's teaching.
"You don't really work for the opera, do you?"
"My relation to the company is rather a more informal one. It might be more accurate to say that I haunt the Opera House."
"You're the ghost."
When he answers, there is a faint note of mockery in his voice.
"Indeed, I do have the honor to have been referred to by that name."
"Who else knows about you? Who you really are, I mean?"
"Aside from my former students? Mr. Richards and I have been close for many years. We have had a long and mutually beneficial relationship. It is possible he has told some other people about me. Not many, I think."
So there you have it. Erik is the ghost. How does this affect your relationship with him?
(link: "It makes no difference. He is still the same person he's always been.")[(set: $warmth to $warmth+1)(go-to: "act ii 6")]
(link: "He lied to me. Now I know I can't trust him.")[(set: $warmth to $warmth-1)(go-to: "act ii 6")]
The next production on the season's program is *Die Fledermaus*. Carlotta is Rosalinde, and you are cast as Adele. The significance of this is obvious to both of you: it means you will be performing onstage together for the first time, and each of you must try to outshine the other. This prospect does not worry you, for the simple reason that you are better than her. You know it. Raoul and Erik both assure you of it. And even Carlotta knows it. You can see it from the haunted expression at the back of her eyes when she looks at you.
You are coming to understand Carlotta much better, and to realize that her position is rather a pitiable one. She has reached the peak of the local opera scene, but she has no possibility of ever moving beyond it. That means she has no direction to go but down. Her only goal is to defend her station against all rivals for as long as she can.
Once, you had no higher ambition than to become the next Carlotta, but thanks to Erik's teaching your prospects have grown considerably. He now speaks frankly of you having an international career. You dream of one day performing in Vienna, Paris, New York, working side by side with the greatest musicians in the world.
So while Carlotta sees you as a rival to be put down, to you she is merely an obstacle. You do not need to replace her, only to move beyond her. She has nothing that you want, and she must not be allowed to hold you back.
[[Continue->act ii 7]]But when opening night comes around, Carlotta's performance is strangely off. She seems distracted and uncomfortable. She fidgets on stage. Once, when she has just exited from a scene, you see her scratching furiously at her head. Then she looks up and sees you watching her, and her expression is pure hatred.
The mystery is explained when you see Erik the next day.
"Madame Carlotta had the charming idea to put itching powder in your wig. Apparently she felt this would improve the quality of your performance. Since I did not agree with her, I took the opportunity to exchange your wig with her own. It was very thoughtful of the costume designer to give you identical wigs, wouldn't you say? Of course she discovered the switch as soon as she put it on. She did her best to remove the powder, but I fear her efforts were not entirely successful."
You almost laugh at the absurdity of it. What a silly, childish thing to do! Did she really think she could get the better of you with so amateurish a trick—easily detected, easily countered, and leaving no doubt in anyone's mind about who perpetrated it? You would be embarrassed to do such a thing. She has no idea how very far out of her league you are. But she will learn.
Still, you find yourself disturbed. Carlotta has now declared open war between you. Her first blow went astray, but she will try again, probably in some much more dramatic way. So you must be constantly on your guard, and you have no idea what form her next attack will take. The problem with amateurs is that, although they are incompetent, they are also very hard to predict.
So it is clear what you must do. You must strike first, and you must do it with overwhelming force. You must eliminate Carlotta, totally and irrevocably, so there is no possibility of her ever trying to hurt you again.
You suddenly realize that Erik is watching you quietly. You once again have the sensation that he can see every thought passing through your head. That is a problem. You suspect he would not approve of the step you are planning to take. You must deceive him as well as Carlotta. So you meet his eyes, smile frankly, and say, "Thank you. It's good to have you watching out for me."
He inclines his head in a slight bow of acknowledgement.
"The pleasure is mine," he says.
[[End of Act II->act iii title]]Consciousness returns slowly, like drifting toward the surface from some murky depth. Your eyes are heavy and hard to open, and when they do open you cannot make sense of what you see. Nothing is familiar, and the struggle is exhausting. You allow your eyes to fall closed.
Some time later you open them again. Thoughts are coming more easily now. You seem to be lying down, but you do not know where. You have a vague memory of a hand over your mouth, but the details refuse to come clear. Above you is a (if: $phantomType is "modern")[concrete](else:)[dimly lit] ceiling. You turn to one side and see an unfamiliar wall.
"I see you are awake again."
Erik. The voice comes from somewhere beyond your feet. You try to sit up, but your head swims and you fall back.
"Take it slowly."
You lie still for a minute, then raise yourself cautiously. You are on a bed in something that is furnished as a bedroom, but there are no windows, and the walls and ceiling are (if: $phantomType is "modern")[made of concrete](else:)[swathed in some dark fabric, red and black]. You lower your feet to the ground so that you are sitting on the edge of the bed. Erik hands you a glass of water. You sip it gratefully. It helps to wash the bitter taste out of your mouth.
"Where am I?" you ask at last.
"In my home. Below the Opera House."
You consider this for a while. It makes sense, in a strange sort of way. Then, fitting the pieces together, you voice the obvious conclusion.
"You kidnapped me."
"I suppose I did."
"Because we need to have a conversation. A very important conversation that I thought you might try to avoid."
"You couldn't just ask?"
So much for your perfect plans. "I trusted you," you say bitterly.
"Perhaps you should not have. But under the circumstances, you have no business casting moral judgement on... well, on much of anyone."
You briefly consider pretending ignorance, but you immediately reject it as pointless. Better to be honest with him, since he already knows the truth anyway, and try to convince him of your point of view.
"I suppose not."
"Though I must admit, you carried off the whole affair with remarkable skill. After that disastrous performance, who would question that her overdose was an intentional suicide? I doubt the police will even bother to investigate much."
[["I was acting in self defence."->act iii 2]]
[["She's the one who started it."->act iii 2]]"Perhaps. But would the police see it that way? I certainly do not claim the late Madame Carlotta was innocent in this affair. But there is quite a difference between itching powder in a wig and murder. You don't feel this was perhaps an unjustified escalation of conflict?"
"She would have done the same, if she could have. And retaliating in kind would have done nothing. Just made her hate me more. She would have kept attacking me, one way after another, until she finally found a way to destroy me. This was the only way I'd ever be safe from her."
"So you killed her."
"Yes, because I had no other choice. I never hurt anyone unless they try to hurt me first."
(if: $warmth > -1)["I see. So you do claim to have a conscience, even if your moral code is a trifle on the unconventional side. I suppose I should find that comforting. But I find it rather hard to trust you."](else:)[He laughs. "How very kind of you. And is that from moral considerations, or merely practical convenience?"
You say nothing. What is there to say?
"And Carlotta's food poisoning? I suppose that also was...?"
"That wasn't to hurt her. I just needed her off the stage for a single performance."
"Of course! I'm sure that makes all the difference in the world. Silly of me to think otherwise."]
Arguing with him would accomplish nothing. So you remain silent and wait to see what he will do.
"In any event, here we are. And the question that matters now is whether you can give me any reason at all not to just turn you over to the police."
Any reason? Dozens of them! But you stick to the ones you think he will understand.
"If you did, you would have to admit to kidnapping me. Besides, I think you're as anxious to avoid their notice as I am."
"True. But it could be done anonymously. I might just send them a video of you tampering with Carlotta's makeup. I trust they could take things from there."
"You planted a camera in Carlotta's dressing room?" You find this inexplicably shocking. It is so different from anything you would have expected of him.
"I have cameras everywhere in the Opera House. Nothing happens here that I do not see."
"The police would immediately search for the camera the video was filmed with, and that would lead them straight to you."
"I suppose so. And if you were to simply disappear, that too would bring them down upon my head." He sighs. "It seems I am less experienced than you at the life of crime. Perhaps it is you who should be giving lessons to me."
He means this to be ironic, but you hear the truth behind his words. He has accepted the idea of himself as a criminal, which means he now puts himself in the same moral category as you. He recognizes his lack of skill. And most important, he is at a loss for what to do next.
You can work with that.
"So what happens now?" you ask, choosing your words carefully.
"That is the question, is it not? Do I deliver you to the forces of justice to face your punishment, knowing I will myself face a heavy penalty from those same forces? Do I set you free, making myself complicit in your crimes? I certainly have no right to punish you myself. Then my crime would be exactly the same as yours."
You wait. He has to work this through himself.
"No, I have it," he exclaims suddenly. "We will make a bargain! I will set you free and let you go your way, but on one condition. Before I do, you must kiss me!"
Of course. You should have known it would come to this. Stupid of you to think Erik was different from other men.
"That isn't really what you mean, is it? Not just a kiss."
"On the contrary, that is exactly what I mean. I will remove my mask, and you will kiss me once on the mouth, and then you will be free to go your way. Is it a bargain?"
Something is wrong. This makes no sense. It has to be a trick, but what is he planning?
(link: "\"Alright.\"")[(set: $choice to "")(go-to: "act iii 3")]
(link: "\"Why?\"")[(set: $choice to "why")(go-to: "act iii 3")]
(if: $choice is "why")["Because I want to see if you will do it. Consider it a test of your character."
That still makes no sense. But you really have no choice. You nod.
Facing directly toward you he raises both hands to his mask, pauses for a moment, and then lifts it off in a single fluid motion.
You had no idea. You never even imagined...
You will not scream. You will not flee in terror.
The very idea of bringing your mouth anywhere near that... you cannot say "face", because that certainly is not the right word, but that...
You will not look away. You will not lose control.
And then your stomach rebels against you, and you vomit. You crouch on the floor in a miserable huddle, shaking uncontrollably. You feel as if the world were spinning. How could you possibly have known...
When the shaking at last subsides, Erik hands you the glass of water. You take it without looking at him and sip slowly.
(if: $warmth > -1)["I'm so sorry," you whisper.
"It's alright. It was only what I expected."](else:)[How could he ever have done that to you?]
When at last you look up, his mask is on again. Not that it makes a difference. You have seen what lies behind, and you can never unsee it. The picture in your mind is still as clear as if it were before your eyes.
(if: $warmth > -1)["I'm sorry," you say again. "I didn't know."
"Of course not. There was no way you could have known."
"But I should have realized. I would have... I wouldn't have..." It somehow seems vitally important that you make him understand, but you cannot find the words to express what you mean.
"Think no more of it. Perhaps it was wrong of me to inflict that on you."
"No. It wasn't. Thank you. For showing me. I mean... for letting me see..."
And suddenly you know what you have to do. The thought fills you with horror, but when have you ever shirked from what needed to be done? And it must be done now, or you will never have another chance.
"Take off the mask again."
He steps back involuntarily, almost as if frightened. "You don't need to do that."
"Yes I do. Please."
Reluctantly he reaches up and removes the mask. It isn't so bad this time. The image was already in your mind, so what difference do your eyes make? And although a part of your brain is screaming, you force yourself to ignore it, step forward, and kiss him on the—not lips, for that is hardly an accurate description, but on the mouth at least.
He stares at you for a long moment, then slowly replaces the mask.
"Thank you. No one ever did that before."
"Then thank you for letting me be the first."
He laughs. "What a pair we are! Beauty and the Beast!"
You suddenly feel oddly shy with him. "Isn't the kiss supposed to make the Beast become beautiful too?"
"In the story, yes. But in this case I fear it can never be."
"Don't say that!"
"Well, it would take a true miracle."
"But I can still try! I will, I promise. I'll try. Someday... maybe someday I can become as good as you."
"Yes," he says thoughtfully. "I think perhaps you will. In any event, please do one thing for me. Try not to kill anyone else."
You smile. "I'll do my best."
"Well, we made a bargain, and you have kept your end admirably. Shall we go? The world is waiting for you, and I believe you will have much beautiful music to offer them."
He leads you to a door, which he unlocks with a key from his pocket. He gestures for you to pass through, then follows after you, locking the door behind him. And together, you begin your ascent to the world above.]\
(else:)[You sit silently for some time, watching each other. The sense of betrayal is overwhelming. Righteousness you could have understood. Even if he had decided to play the avenging angel. But cruelty of this nature? You would never have imagined it of him.
"So what happens now?" he asks at last.
You laugh at the absurdity of the question.
"What do you think happens now! For two such monsters as we, the choices are not complex! Either we destroy each other, or else we part and try to pretend we never met. Can you think of any other options?"
More time passes in agonizing silence before he at last replies. "No, I suppose not." You hear the bleak despair in his voice, but you cannot let yourself think about it. "Only I thought... I had dared to hope you would be different."
"Different from what I am? Or different from yourself?" You know this hurts him, but you will do what must be done.
"Then we are each of us betrayed by the false hopes we placed in another. What a fitting end to a tragic opera."
"Yes. I suppose it is."
At last he rises. "Very well. You may go. I will ask only one thing of you. Will you promise not to kill anyone else?"
"I will do my best."
He leads you to a door, which he unlocks with a key from his pocket. "The stairs are to the left. Follow them, and they'll lead you out. Never come back here again."
You walk past him, them turn around in the doorway.
"Thank you, for all the lessons."
And then you pass out through the doorway, and begin your ascent to the world above.]
[[End of Act III->epilogue title]]
<div style="text-align: center;">
|content>[The following year, you sing your debut with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The reviews are enthusiastic. They declare that a major new talent has arrived on the world stage.]
(live: 13s)[(stop:)(replace: ?content)[(transition: "dissolve")[
A few months later, you and Raoul are married. He proves to be an ideal husband: rich, handsome, devoted, and very easy to control.
(live: 25s)[(stop:)(replace: ?content)[(transition: "dissolve")[
You keep your promise to Erik. You do not kill anyone else for the rest of your life.
(live: 38s)[(stop:)(replace: ?content)[(transition: "dissolve")[The ghost is never seen again. For some years, the members of the company continue to tell stories about him. As the stories come to be repeated at third and fourth hand, they take on the quality of legend. At last, after several decades, they cease to be told altogether. The Opera Ghost makes his final bow, and disappears into the mists of forgotten history.
(live: 64s)[(stop:)(go-to: "end")]
<span style="animation: fadeout 20s;">*Prologue*</span>
(live: 12s)[(stop:)(go-to: "prologue 1")]
(track: 'prologue', 'play')
(live: 5s)[(stop:)(go-to: "audition 1")]
(track: 'act1', 'play')
(live: 9s)[(stop:)(go-to: "act ii 1")]
(live: 0.6s)[(stop:)(track: 'act2', 'play')]
(live: 9s)[(stop:)(go-to: "act iii 1")]
(track: 'act3', 'play')
(live: 7s)[(stop:)(go-to: "epilogue 1")]
(track: 'epilogue', 'play')(set: $warmth to 0)<div style="text-align: center;">\
(link-repeat: "Symphony No. 8 \"Unfinished\"")[(open-url: "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3NYXc6f23o")]
by Franz Schubert
Performed by KlangKollektiv Wien
(link-repeat: "Piano Concerto No. 1 in F Major")[(open-url: "https://musopen.org/music/2492-piano-concerto-no-1-in-f-major-k-37/")]
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
License: Public Domain
(link-repeat: "Faust, \"Alerte! Alerte!\"")[(open-url: "https://www.liberliber.it/online/autori/autori-g/charles-francois-gounod/faust/")]
by Charles Gounod
Performed by Metropolitan Opera
(link-repeat: "Die Fledermaus, \"Mein Herr Marquis\"")[(open-url: "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7G9nwXlJJyU")]
by Johann Strauss II
Performed by Cecilia Rodrigues
(link-repeat: "Symphony No. 9")[(open-url: "https://musopen.org/music/2571-symphony-no-9-in-d-minor-op-125/")]
by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by Skidmore College Orchestra
License: Public Domain
<span style="font-size: 70pt;">*Phantom*</span>
<img src="assets/mask.png" width="70%"/>
An Opera in Three Acts
by Peter Eastman
epilogue: ./assets/epilogue.mp3showControls: false