The Phantom of The Opera review: The classiest night in Dubai?
Played to well over 140 million people across 35 countries, 166 cities and six continents, The Phantom of The Opera is one of the greatest success stories in the history of performance. So how doe it play in Dubai?
First, I wouldn't call myself an opera buff. Far from it. But having quickly Googled how to tie a Windsor knot, I attended the Dubai Premiere of the highly-renowned show. And before I wax lyrical the on the extemporized chordal accompaniment for the recitativo secco (thanks again, Google) let's start at the very beginning.
While the star of the show is evidently, the actual show. I would be remise not to mention its chief supporting act, the Dubai Opera itself. Even before you enter the atrium, you’re welcomed with a literal red carpet. Once inside, you’ll find a trio of well-dressed gents checking tickets, and pointing guests where to shuffle their ball gowns towards the bar.
There's also an area outside the theatre entrance featuring tuxedo-wearing waiters.
The theatre is an impressive 2,000 seat room, complete with the stereotypically-familiar and artistic red chairs, wooden balconies and massive hollow ceiling. The magnitude of the room really lends itself to the grandeur of the whole experience, as does looking around to see everyone in their finest sat waiting for the show to begin.
To my disappointment, the orchestra was hidden behind a partially shielding orchestra pit. I understand the acoustic importance of these rigs, but part of me wishes I had been able to see just a glimpse of the combination of brass and string responsible for performing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s heavy-hitting music.
The show consists of 130 cast, crew and orchestra members, 230 costumes and 22 scene changes - so it's quite a spectacle.
The Phantom of The Opera does not disappoint, providing a level of complexity and ingenuity in its costume and set building I did not think possible of classic theatre. As if by magic entire sets transform in the dark in matter of moments. In the blink of an eye, the scene embodying French aristocracy can transform into a claustrophobic lair complete with fog and smoke.
While watching, I continuously wondered how they did that; be it from a chandelier flying around the roof, or the Phantom drifting across a lake in a boat. They even had dancing (pretend) elephants!
For me, this over-the-top theatrical nature of the perforamnce was an incredibly enjoyable one. All the sets are insane, all the costumes are ridiculous and the music is epic.
Based on the classic novel Le Fantôme de L’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of The Opera tells the tale of a disfigured musical genius, known as the Phantom (Jonathan Roxmouth), who haunts the Paris Opera House. Infatuated by the talent and beauty of a young soprano, Christine (Claire Lyon), the Phantom lures her as his protégé and falls madly in love with her. Unaware of Christine’s love for Raoul (Matt Leisy), the Phantom’s obsession sets the manifests into a story of heart-break, passion, revenge and lust.
It’s a dark, twisted love story, interspersed with moments of comedy (thanks to Opera managers played by James Borthwick and Curt Olds), reaching a finale where you find yourself somehow rooting for a malevolent and murderous ghost.
Inevitably, I found find myself sympathetic to Roxmouth’s tremendously acted Phantom, intertwining insanity and vulnerability in such a way to humanise someone that is literally non-human.
Roxmouth and Lyon’s voices are what I'll remember the most. As The Phantom changes mental states, so does the voice of Roxmouth. With immense, room-trembling songs taking centre-stage during his more confident moments, to more quivering and restrained musical numbers later on as his disparity sinks in. The range of Roxmouth’s voice, both in tone and sheer decibels, perfectly represent the Smörgåsbord of emotions The Phantom gives us.
The intense music of the orchestra is one of the defining characteristics of his gloomy opera, and it does not fail here. ‘Phantom of the Opera’ is a score immediately recognisable and strikes a sense of fear and excitement into the audience as the harsh organ pierce your soul.
It has been 33-years since the debut of The Phantom of The Opera, so much has been said about it already. What I can say is the Dubai performance certainly lives up to the hype. Roxmouth and Lyon are clearly the shining stars, with the performances around them providing a much needed air of comedy and levity. The sets are fun and theatrical to the point it’s hard to believe it’s done without any computerisation. The venue and atmosphere itself really makes you feel like you’re somewhere snazzy and special.
Has it made an opera convert of me? While I would have loved to see the orchestra a bit more clearly, in the end the sheer ambition of the performance blew me away. And if more shows are like this one, you'll find me - complete with freshly-tied Windsor - at the Dubai Opera again and again.
Phantom of The Opera, Dubai Opera, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, Dubai, October 16 to November 9, from AED 250. Tel: (04) 4408888. dubaiopera.com.