Recently we had the opportunity to see our signature, all round favorite musical again.
The Phantom of the Opera was written in 1910 by Gaston Leroux, a French man who wrote it after visiting the underbelly of the Paris Opera House which went as far as seventy feet deep down under the famed building. The story is about a disfigured, albeit intelligent, out cast who falls in love with a young, attractive singer and gives her voice lessons, although I may be simplifying the plot. More importantly, it also entails the transformation of the woman’s heart from fear and disgust to compassion. Inevitably, the maiden’s affection reaches beyond the external ugliness thus bringing tears to the audience and arousing our own emotions and questioning perhaps our own preconceived prejudice towards what is behind the mask we all wear or must wear in order to survive modern society.
But before that, Victor Hugo, the Gothic, French novelist wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831. Here again, we have a disenfranchised Quasimodo attracted to Esmeralda, a pretty, gypsy woman who is the only person who shows him any human kindness by bringing him water after he has been beaten. He does everything in his power to save her.
But even before that, Jeannne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, wrote Beauty and the Beast in 1756.
And even before Beaumont’s French novel, Nivelle de la Chaussee wrote a play in 1742, called Amour pour Amour based on Gabrielle- Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s version of the classic, handed down European tale of the beast and the beauty. In Villeneuve’s story, more backstory is provided.
What is it with the French man’s obsession trying to get warm hearted, gorgeous women to look beyond physical unattractiveness? Is it a metaphor for “don’t judge a book by its cover”? Or, for finding the soul of those we deem different as having value and desiring the same basic needs as we all do? Or, do the French just feel victimized in every century? Hmm. What do you think?