The Phantom of the Opera as an Intimacy-Seeking and Resentful Stalker
DISCLAIMERS: Benvenuto al mondo della mia mente, i miei angeli ❤ Please cite me/link me if you use this! But you are welcome to use it for free. The role of Christine Daae is definitely a dream role for this author, and this is a topic about which she is most passionate.
You should watch or read The Phantom of the Opera if you are unfamiliar with the story. Here is a good version of the ALW musical, and a good version of the Yeston/Kopit musical (they are very different). Just…absorb the story somehow. Then, enjoy this essay. Too many spoilers ahead.
INTRO TO THE MATERIAL: The Phantom of the Opera, the mystery/high romance novel (1911) by Gaston Leroux about a cold-case involving a beautiful young singer and the ghostly man who is obsessed with her to the point of murder, has been adapted into countless mediums because it is a riveting story. As a musical, the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Charles Hart/Richard Stilgoe version has thrived on the West End and Broadway for well over 30 years, predating this author’s life by close to a decade, and is the longest running show in Broadway history. It is the author’s favorite musical. (She loves both the Yeston-Kopit and ALW/Hart/Stilgoe interpretations of the novel equally and for different reasons, but Sarah Brightman’s voice is one of the main reasons this author sings today).
Unfortunately, as of March 2021, they’ve never cast a Black Christine on Broadway or the West End. The golden-voiced Lana English, at this point (someone please correct me if I am wrong), is the only Black woman who has ever played Christine, in the history of the world. This is very wrong and sad, and must change, as there are many talented and qualified Black women (and other people of color) who could bring gorgeous life to this iconic role.
You are welcome for the many links to all those wonderful performances in the last paragraph. Watch them, and if anyone from Tara Rubin is reading this, cast them! Anyway, back to the topic of intimacy-seeking and resentful stalkers:
Why has Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hauntingly beautiful musical, written for his muse, endured through so many years? No doubt, the score is iconic. Young sopranos in their living rooms will endeavor to match that Eb6 for generations to come. But this author believes it is the tale itself, a celebrity-stalking psychological thriller and melodramatic romance set at the end of the 19th century in the dramatic world of the Palais Garnier, that keeps terrifying and fascinating audiences.
The Phantom of the Opera is the story of a smart and talented architect and composer, rejected by society because of a facial birth defect, living in the dark basement of a major performing arts venue in Paris, who becomes obsessed with a lonely, naïve soprano in the emotionally vulnerable wake of her father’s death. Hiding his face from her for obvious and very sad reasons, he manipulates her into believing he is literally an angel by taking advantage of her religious beliefs and an advanced architectural system that allows him to speak and travel through walls and mirrors, giving her voice lessons that she believes are actually Heaven-sent.
“The Phantom” (also known as Erik) turns the soprano Christine into an overnight celebrity while stalking her, her coworkers, her bosses, and her fiancé Raoul, murdering people, and committing a terrorist attack at her show that kills somebody. Why does he do all of this? In the name of obsessive love (and jealousy, of course).
The Phantom of the Opera sits right on the edge of unbelievable, but it literally could have happened. It mesmerizes and horrifies us in the same way of true-crime documentaries and podcasts. And the problem of stalkers is unfortunately still relevant, especially in the digital age and in the era of doxxing.
THESIS: Over the course of a sassy explorative essay, this author will compare the character of “The Phantom” (Erik) to the descriptions of “intimacy-seeking” and “resentful” stalkers in this study.
The study itself, by Mullen, Pathé, Purcell, and Stuart, is now over twenty years old (predating social media and smartphones, which are now used constantly as tools for harassment) but is still a very influential source used in the general discourse about stalking. This is because the authors of the study organized stalkers by motivation, noting five motivations altogether: rejected, intimacy seeking, incompetent, resentful, and predatory. Not all stalkers are the same. There is a frighteningly wide range of behavior that constitutes stalking.
It’s worth reading the whole thing, honestly, but in this essay we are just looking at the behavior of one stalker: The Phantom of the Opera. He starts out as intimacy seeking, but when Christine tries to have a life and relationship outside of his control, he turns fatally resentful.
QUOTE FROM THE STUDY: “Forty-nine [out of 145] stalkers were seeking intimacy with the object of their unwanted attention, whom they identified as their true love.”
EXAMPLES: Rejected by his mother and sold to a “freak show” as a child, Erik hopes that Christine can see him as someone beautiful. In the ALW musical, unmasked to a horrified Christine for the first time, the Phantom sings to his muse:
“Fear can turn to love/You’ll learn to see/To find the man behind the monster/This repulsive carcass who seems a beast/But secretly dreams of beauty.”
Erik idealizes Christine as a kind of incarnate solution to his very sad mother issues. Yeston and Kopit explore this dynamic with “You are Music”. He also views her as a solution to his artistic frustration — he knows he is an artistic genius. He has been rejected and hated by the whole world because of his face, so he hides underground all the time, and therefore is not as famous as he probably could be. (A funny sidenote: in the novel, Erik hilariously hates Meyerbeer and does not believe the Dinorah composer should be as famous as he is.) But through Christine’s voice, his artistic soul can be heard. An iconic lyric from the 1986 musical: “You alone can make my song take flight.”
QUOTE FROM THE STUDY: “Delusional disorders were common, particularly among intimacy-seeking stalkers.”
EXAMPLES: The Phantom is deluded that Christine will live the rest of her life with him in his basement, and that he is the true underlord of Le Palais Garnier. He also deludes Christine into believing she is having spiritual auditory experiences with Heaven. According to the novel, the Phantom began stalking Christine around the time of her father’s death, listening to her practice singing, and also listening to her pray and cry in supposed privacy. Knowing she believes in angels and communing with the spiritual realm, the Phantom gives himself immediate power and access to her by “answering her prayers”. He speaks and listens to her through the walls using his knowledge of acoustics and architecture…so manipulative.
A moment of Leroux:
[The man’s voice spoke again: “Are you very tired?”
“Oh, tonight I gave you my soul and I am dead!” Christine replied.
“Your soul is a beautiful thing, child,” replied the grave man’s voice, “and I thank you. No emperor ever received so fair a gift. THE ANGELS WEPT TONIGHT.”]
QUOTE FROM THE STUDY: “The central purpose of the intimacy-seeking stalkers was to establish a relationship, but several were prey to jealousy, and a number became enraged…”
EXAMPLES: The Phantom never stops seeking intimacy with Christine. He truly loves her for her talent and personality. She is not a celebrity at the beginning of the story. The Phantom’s obsession with her, arguably, is made worse by her operatic success because other people (especially a certain rich hot guy named Raoul) begin to develop a fascination with her, and Erik gets intensely jealous. When Christine chooses to accept Raoul’s proposal of marriage, Erik becomes a resentful stalker. The Phantom, as we have established, knows he is a genius, and therefore, is entitled to Christine’s voice as his vehicle. He also truly loves her, and feels entitled to her love. As the study says about resentful stalkers, they ““usually evince considerable self-righteousness…”
QUOTE FROM THE STUDY: “Letters were sent by 94 [out of 145]…varying from the occasional note to a daily deluge.”
EXAMPLES: My fellow Phans already know where I’m going with this. “Notes!”
The Phantom’s favorite method of communication (besides talking to Christine through the walls) is sending the managers of the Palais Garnier Opera House letters full of demands, threats, and insults. As his motivation changes from intimacy-seeking to resentful, his notes get more ominous.
QUOTE FROM THE STUDY: “The 16 we termed resentful stalkers stalked to frighten and distress the victim.”
EXAMPLES: This is literally how the Phantom survives. He has no power if his identity is revealed, as everyone is very cruel about his face. In the Yeston/Kopit musical, Erik explains himself: “All my life I have lived by threatening to kill.” His control lies only in making those fear him, as they might fear a ghost haunting a theatre. (Sidenote: If you want to hear this author’s stories about working in a Broadway theatre with ghosts, let her know via social media because she will tell you.)
QUOTE FROM THE STUDY: “Resentful stalkers are threatening and prone to damaging their victim’s property, but, interestingly, they rarely proceed to overt assault. The overall risk presented by intimacy-seeking stalkers is low, but, in our experience, those with erotomania and morbid infatuations can, on occasion, be responsible for extreme violence…”
EXAMPLES: I can’t think of a better description of The Phantom’s behavior than this quote. He…makes a chandelier fall on somebody and it kills them…. while Christine is performing! That is serious property damage and extreme violence. But as he mocks Raoul in the Final Lair scene of the ALW musical, Erik assures the fiancé that he would never hurt Christine, singing and threatening, “Did you think that I would harm her?/ Why should I make her pay for the sins which are yours?”
The study also informs us that “threats and property damage were more frequent with resentful stalkers”. The Phantom threatens Carlotta, Christine’s competition, many times. The Phantom brings all of those threats to fruition, not only disrupting Carlotta’s performance in a humiliating fashion, but going so far as to murder her boyfriend, Piangi.
QUOTE FROM THE STUDY: “Resentful stalkers present…a pure culture of persecution…’”
EXAMPLES: From his threatening notes written to the managers of the Opera House, to literally dangling Christine’s fiancé’s life in front of her as bait, the Phantom persecutes everybody with whom he has a relationship. He does not want to persecute Christine, because he loves her, but he knows she will not choose him if he does not force her hand to do so. So, like he does with everyone else, he strikes fear into her heart. It’s the only way he knows how to live.
FINISHING UP: This author also argues that The Phantom of the Opera takes a transformative stance on justice. Christine had every right to turn to retributive justice in response to the hell Erik wreaked upon her life. She could have chosen to see Erik as a monster rather than a man, turned him into the police and subjected him to spending the rest of his life in a cage (as he began his life), shown the mob the way to his lair, been the executor of his punishment. Raoul attempts this type of punitive justice during a performance of Don Juan Triumphant and…well, you should really watch the show if you haven’t, but it doesn’t go as planned.
Christine chooses not to seek retribution, which is very confusing and frustrating to many people. Could we, like Christine, somehow manage to show love to this very unlovable person? Could we bring ourselves to kiss this 19th century incel, not because he deserves any physical affection (access to other peoples’ bodies, especially sexual access, is never a right) but because he clearly needs love? A scary question to which many sane people would immediately answer “no”.
Tragically, the Study of Stalkers confirms the stereotype that “stalkers come predominantly from the lonely, isolated, and disadvantaged of our society”. Our feelings of sympathy for him do not absolve the Phantom from his bad behavior. But what could Erik’s life have been if a musical prodigy with a facial deformity were not immediately rejected because he did not fit the beauty standards of his society? What would the world look like if we prioritized including the lonely, isolated, and disadvantaged? Christine creates a small slice of this world, a moment of grace, with her kiss.
PERSONAL: The author has her own resentful stalker, by the way. Stalking is unfortunately common and does not only happen to famous people. Yes, this article was written from a love of The Phantom of the Opera (the author’s favorite love story). But also, it was cathartic to learn about resentful stalkers, and now, the author does not feel so alone and scared of this man. He is pretty uninterested in her these days, thankfully. But he does send emails, and threatens to try and destroy her relationships and reputation with horrible lies. It is what it is. If he ever tries again to damage her professional or personal relationships, perhaps the author will “unmask” him to everybody.
Did you know that, in general, it is very difficult to get a permanent restraining order? Don’t you think that should change?