December 28th, 2004

Phantom of the Opera, the movie

Sunday afternoon, we went to see the movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical "The Phantom of the Opera." I'm a sucker for this show in so many ways: I'm a great fan of Lon Chaney, Gaston Leroux, the orginal movie, opera, musical theatre and big productions. When you add to that a gorgeously mounted and photographed film, it looks like a winner. I have seen the stage show and heard the score many times and found it thouroughly enjoyable so had no fears in that regard. The production was lushly designed as only a big budget movie can be, and i was particularly taken with some of the recurring design elements such as the symbolically blindfolded statues and caryatids in the opera house that was echoed by the hooded "weepers" and sphinxes in the graveyard scene. I also appreciated touches adopted from the orginal movie, such as the human-arm shaped candelabra that move out of the way of passers-by. The order of scenes was somewhat altered from the stage show and supposedly some new music added, but it was hard to notice where. Some scenes were added which did not improve the picture, but didn't detract much--there is a flashback scene in which Madame Giry recounts what she knows of the Phantom's origin. Although this relates back to the orginal Leroux version--implying that the Phantom's deformity existed from birth--it conflicts with other parts of the story, notably the Phantom's face which resembles burn scarring. Also, he supposedly has been living in the bowels of the opera house since childhood. Therefore it is explicable how he taught himself music and even architecture, but not swordfighting--. On the other hand, in the fight scene with Raoul, neither one of them displays any particular form or skill, so perhaps that is believable.

Though referred to as a musical, Webber's "Phantom" is an opera in form. It is through-composed with very little spoken dialog. It is however, still a hybrid, since written for music-theater voices rather than true operatic tones. This has always been the one big flaw with the show as a whole, since it is hard for an opera fan to believe in Christine as an operatic soprano. Instead, the role is always performed by someone with a light, sweet voice, which, however beautiful, would not reach unamplified to the upper galleries of a grand opera house.

Emmy Rossum looks beautiful and vulnerable as Christine Daae, and has the voice that has become standard for the role--which, as I say, isn't really belivable for a diva-in-training, but that's Webber's issue. She does have a lovely voice. Patrick Wilson as Raoul de Chagny is stalwart and handsome and sings adequately, but not memorably. Gerard Butler as the Phantom seems a curious choice: his face is too pretty, but his voice is not. He overdoes it on the role's harsh portions. Perhaps his good looks are intended to heighten the shock of the revelation of his "real" face.

Supporting casting was somewhat curious. Minnie Driver obviously had grat fun chewing the scenery as La Carlotta, but why bother to cast her when her singing has to be dubbed, and her "star power" such as it is really isn't going to add to the movie's saleability? Surely there are plenty of singing actresses that could have done as well?

Some critics felt that the orchestral score sometimes drowned out the singing, which I felt occurred only on a few phrases. This may depend upon the theatre you hear it in. I generally felt that the soundtract was more distinct than hearing it live, and the film has the added advantage of close-ups.

All in all, good fun if you like music theatre at all.

Q, All American Food

After the movie Sunday, we tried a new restaurant for dinner. "Q" is a new barbecue restaurant on South Kinnickinnic Avenue in the bayview neighborhood. It is a venture by a well-regarded resterateur who's other establishments we had enjoyed, so we were curious to try it.

The setting is spartan but pleasant, and the menu simple. There are five meats: ribs, pork shoulder, beef brisket, chicken, and "hot links". There are four sauces, which are provided on the table: Texas pit sauce, Q hot sauce, Sprecher root beer barbecue sauce (!) and a mustard barbecue sauce. Side dishes include beans, potato salad, fries, and coleslaw. The meats can be had as sandwiches or as plates in a variety of combinations. We tried some of the pork, brisket, and chicken, and found each of the dry-rubbed meats delicious. The sauces were interesting, but we liked the traditional Texas sauce best. Fries were good and hot, the potato salad was "righteous", as Georgie put it, and the barbecue beans had significant hunks of meat in the sauce, but were a bit too spicy for my taste. You can buy meat in quantiy to go and all the meals are available for takeout. Recommended.