Cheat Sheet:
The Phantom
of the Opera

The world’s most popular musical returns to Australia, taking centre stage at Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour

Photo: Hamilton Lund

Photo: Hamilton Lund

Cheat Sheet:
The Phantom
of the Opera

The world’s most popular musical returns to Australia, taking centre stage at Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour

Photo: Hamilton Lund

Photo: Hamilton Lund

Who was the composer?

Andrew Lloyd Webber – one of the world’s most successful composers. He’s known for his versatility – from the rock’n’roll of Jesus Christ Superstar to the operatic-inspired The Phantom of the Opera – and irresistible melodies.

Born in London in 1948, Lloyd Webber has written many of the world’s most successful musicals. As a young composer, his collaborations with lyricist Tim Rice became international sensations: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (1968), Jesus Christ Superstar (1970) and Evita (1978).

This was followed by the successes of the 1980s. The all-singing, all-dancing Cats (1981) was performed continuously for 21 years in London and 18 years on Broadway. Cats record runs were only broken by Lloyd Webber’s own production The Phantom of the Opera (1986). He’s still composing hits to this day, with his new version of Cinderella which opened on the West End in 2021 and recently announced to be opening on Broadway soon. 

What happens in the story?

“Love, passion and live theatre are what Phantom is all about” – Andrew Lloyd Webber

Based on a 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera tells the tale of a disfigured musical genius who haunts the Paris Opera House. Mesmerised by the talents and beauty of the young soprano Christine, the Phantom lures her as his protégé and falls fiercely in love with her. When’s Christine childhood sweetheart comes back into her life, the Phantom’s obsession sets the scene for a dramatic turn of events where jealousy, madness and passions collide.

Joshua Robson and Georgina Hopson in Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour - The Phantom of the Opera. Photo: Prudence Upton

Joshua Robson and Georgina Hopson in Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour - The Phantom of the Opera. Photo: Prudence Upton

The music...

Crashing chords, luscious melodies, soaring high notes – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score is dizzyingly intoxicating. It’s packed with songs famous the whole world over, including The Phantom’s seductive solo 'The Music of the Night', Christine and Raoul’s 'All I Ask of You', 'Masquerade' and the title song, with its thundering chromatic chords.

Why are these songs so well known? The original cast recording of The Phantom of the Opera is one of the biggest musical theatre albums ever. It was the first in British musical history to enter the charts at Number One, and has been certified four times Platinum in the US and three times Platinum in the UK. 

Georgina Hopson and dancers in Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour - The Phantom of the Opera. Photo: Prudence Upton.

Georgina Hopson and dancers in Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour - The Phantom of the Opera. Photo: Prudence Upton.

This production is...

... entirely new! It brings together two of Australia’s most in-demand theatrical talents –  director Simon Phillips and designer Gabriela Tylesova – who worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber on the Australian premiere of Phantom sequel Love Never Dies.

Together, they promise to elevate the show’s defining moments – the mirror, the journey to the Phantom’s lair, the chandelier – to a whole new level of spectacle that makes the most of the shimmering harbour location and our enormous purpose-built stage over the water.

Callum Francis and Georgina Hopson in Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour - The Phantom of the Opera. Photo: Prudence Upton.

Callum Francis and Georgina Hopson in Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour - The Phantom of the Opera. Photo: Prudence Upton.

A little history

In the early 1900s, during one of his frequent visits to the Paris Opera House, journalist and novelist Gaston Leroux began to hear rumours of a ghost that haunted the old building. Several unexplainable deaths had been attributed to this spectre, and backstage gossip only fuelled the story. The Opera House had already had its share of mysterious accidents when, on 20 May 1896, a counterweight of the seven-tonne chandelier had fallen into the audience, killing a concierge.

His reporter’s instincts aroused, Leroux studied the Opera House, exploring it from the pinnacles of its rooftops to the slimy underground caverns. Leroux saw in the Opera House a mirror of the Belle Époque society that passed through its halls: beautiful, stately and refined on the outside, with an undercurrent of secrecy and horror lurking just below the surface.

In a feverish three months, often scribbling down images from his nightmares, he completed what would be his most memorable work. The Phantom of the Opera was born.

Leroux’s novel would go on to be adapted many times, including into a legendary 1925 film starring Lon Chaney, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s legendary musical.

Conversation starters

  • Princess Diana is said to have performed ‘All I Ask of You’ as a seventh wedding anniversary gift to Prince Charles (a scene many will have seen reimagined in The Crown). While there is debate over whether she really sang or merely mimed the song, Diana had been coached by the show’s choreographer Gillian Lynne.
  • In the opening auction scene, the lot number for the remnants of the chandelier is 666 – the ‘mark of the Beast’.
  • There really is a lake underneath the Paris Opera; it is an integral part of the design, and the water level acts as a ballast, raised or lowered, depending on the weight of the stage, seven storeys above it. And it’s not the only major opera house with a body of water underneath. Just across the harbour, the Sydney Opera House has water flowing underneath, which is used to power heating and air-conditioning.