Gaston Leroux (from the novel “Le Fantome de l’opéra”), Andrew Lloyd Webber, Richard Stilgoe
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Joel Schumacher
Really Useful Films, Joel Schumacher Productions, Scion Films Limited
Masolino D’Amico, Fiamma Izzo
Fiamma Izzo, Giovanni Baldini, Franco Travaglio
Musical and dubbing direction:
Emanuele Lippi, Marco Boemi
Pinewood Shepperton Studios
Luca Velletri (song); Stefano Benassi (voice)
Renata Fusco (song); Myriam Catania (voice)
Pietro Pignatelli (song); Francesco Bulckaen (voice)
Paris 1870. The Opéra Populaire is getting ready to begin the season with “Hannibal”. During rehearsals the primadonna Carlotta Giudicelli abandons the cast and the young Christine Daaé takes her place on stage. The girl is the protégé of the “Phantom of the opera”, a mysterious masked genius who haunts the theatre. The Phantom is madly in love with Christine, his muse and pupil of song. Very soon however he will have to face the love blossomed between Christine and Viscount Raoul de Chagny. In an act of extreme desperation the Phantom decides to kidnap her and make her his bride; Raoul tries to save her but it will be her compassion for the deformed creature which will lead to a happy ending.
Gaston Lereux’s novel was made into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1986, it had an immediate, enormous success, so much so that in 1989 the film project was born. Due to a series of ups and downs nothing happened until 2002; today under the force of the cinematographic version of the “Phantom” it has become the most represented musical on the London theatre scene.
The story flows quickly and lightly, the real stars being the music and the singing and everything is built to heighten their appeal and to intensify the emotions which they give. The use of speech has been studied in minimum detail and its up to the actors’ talent to convey all the emotions which must reach the public with their voices. To translate the Phantom is like wishing to translate the opera: betrayal is inevitable. Listening to the Italian version one asks oneself if it wouldn’t have been better to subtitle the film and to leave the spectator the liberty of being whisked away by the phantom’s world.
The first thing to point out is that the musicality changes from one language to the other, so that: «Fantasma dell’opera» is too long and doesn’t follow the music, also considering that in the original «Phantom of the Opera», the passage of the two middle syllables is very quick. In the Italian version of “The Mirror”, the refrain is changed from «I’m your angel of music/Come to the angel of music» to «Sono il tuo angelo, vieni/Tu sei la mia musa» moving the centre of attention onto the muse and canceling the hypnotic effect of the original. In the scene in which Christine takes the phantom’s mask off, the melodic game of the sibilant «Secretly» is substituted with the hard sound of «Dentro sé». (within/in him)
Without doing an accurate analysis of the translation, it’s clear from the beginning that certain choices are harmful to the film. The phantom is a solitary, marginalized being and music is his only contact with the outside world and Christine is the means through which his music reaches the world. In the original version all this is explained through the words of “The Music of the Night”: «Night time sharpens/Heightens each sensation/Darkness stirs/And wakes imagination/Silently the senses/Abandon the defenses» (La notte acuisce/Accresce ogni sensazione/Le tenebre si mescolano/E risvegliano la fantasia/ Silenziosamente i sensi/ Abbandonano ogni difesa). In the Italian adaptation every reference to the music he composes is cancelled and the song is reduced to a means to charm Christine and to force her to abandon herself: «Quando brami strane tentazioni/Quando vuoi oscure sensazioni/Nella notte senti/Immensi sogni ardenti» (when you desire strange temptations/when you want obscure sensations/Feel in the night/ Immense fiery dreams).
The love for Christine in this way assumes a carnal seductive hint, whereas in realty the Phantom considers her the incarnation of music and therefore his possession. If one notes furthermore the reprise of “All I ask of you”, the original version of which recites «You will curse the day you didn’t do/All the Phantom asked of you» (Maledirai il giorno in cui non hai fatto/ciò che il Fantasma ti chiese) and then the end of “Masquerade” with that «Your chains are still mine/You belong to me» (Le tue catene sono mie/Tu mi appartieni,) the possession he claims of the girl is clearer; in the Italian version all this disappears, rendering the first line a promise of revenge: «Punirò quel che hai osato tu/Nient’altro il Fantasma chiede più» (I will punish what you have dared/nothing more does the Phantom ask) and mollifying the second one in an «Arrenditi ormai/Appartieni a me» (surrender now/you belong to me).
In “All I Ask of you”, the declaration of love between Christine and Raoul, the fact that part of it would have been seen also in the Don Juan’s representation scene, hasn’t been taken into account. In this way the chorus has been changed in «T’amo nient’altro chiedo più», (I love you, I ask of nothing more) whilst the original is «Amami» (Love me, that’s all I ask of you) and Raoul’s verse: «Say you need me with you, here beside you/Anywhere you go let me go too/Christine that’s all I ask of you» (Dimmi che hai bisogno di me, qui al tuo fianco/Ovunque vai fammi venire con te/Christine è tutto ciò che chiedo) is transformed into a very romantic «Cade pioggia sul tuo deserto/La mia pioggia voglio sia tu/Christine nient’altro chiedo più» (rain falls on your desert/I wish my rain were you/Christine nothing more do I ask). Whereas in Don Juan the translation follows the original meaning, losing in this way the parallel between the two declarations, whilst the «T’amo» (I love you) in the Italian version does not have the sense of pleading which is in the original.
The whole finale of the film plays around the line «Past the point of no return» (Passato il punto di non ritorno) which becomes «Passa il ponte fra noi due» (the bridge passes between us), a good solution for the lip movement but not very effective. In the final scene the Phantom asks Christine to choose between him and Raoul. She’s in front of a crossroads and either decision will bring death and suffering: «Refuse me and you’ll send your lover to his death/This is your choice/This is the point of no return!» (Rifiutami e condannerai il tuo amato a morte/Questa è la tua scelta/Questo è il punto di non ritorno). In the dubbed version «Se tu dici di no/Lo sai lo ucciderò/Dimmi chi vuoi/È questo il ponte fra di noi», (if you say no, you know I will kill him/ tell me who you want/ this is the bridge between us) the bridge becomes a link, and it seems that Christine can chose not to see it.
The film ends with «Non avrò mai con me gli occhi tuoi/Finì la dolce musica per noi», moving but incompatible with the real ending in which the Phantom realizes he has lost the only link with the real world and that as from now he’ll be relegated to silence: «You alone can make my songs take flight/It’s over now the Music of the Night» (Solo tu potevi far prendere il volo alla mia musica/È finita ora la musica della notte).
What damages the Italian version more than anything else is the bad choice of the three stars’ voices. Gerard Butler, the Phantom, allows his voice to do what it wants; strong and decisive it can be enveloping and persuasive, and in the next moment raucous and harsh. It’s impressive the way it goes from charming and fascinating in “The Music of the Night” to spiteful and despairing, perceived when his mask is taken off. Towards the end of the film the persuasive note of his voice is lost and a grating, rasping voice comes through which gives you the shivers. Luca Velletri does not have these qualities, and if his warm tone of voice is suitable for the first part of the film, in the second, the absence of rasping tones gives us a tormented Phantom going through an existentialist crisis. This alters our perception of the character because Webber plays on the fear that the Phantom incites and in the Italian version more than anything we feel sorry for him. Also to be pointed out is the distinct contrast between Velletri’s singing and Benassi’s voice.
Emmy Rossum impersonates Christine with an enveloping, confident voice and her lyrical education is heard from the start and grows with the opera. She also manages to convey many and just tones to her voice which are indescribable; and if these characteristics are more perceivable towards the end of the film, the emotions she expresses in the previous passages are just as strong. Renata Fusco seems to realize all this only at the end: her Christine has an angel’s voice, heavenly and colourless.
Patrick Wilson has a warm enveloping voice evoking security and tranquility in stark contrast with the Phantom’s. The principal characteristic is however that of being sufficiently high to sustain Rossum in the duets. In the Italian dubbing this particular has been forgotten and Pignatelli is always overtaken by Fusco and Velletri, so much so that the words are hardly heard.
Fiamma Izzo’s interpretation of Carlotta Giudicelli is very good. The star, whom Minnie Driver enjoys teasing, has an acute and unpleasant voice, in some parts words are much emphasized, making the Italian diction seem forced. The task is not made any easier by the adaptation which has to play around Italian insertions in the original which sometimes leads to ridiculous results.
[original review in Italian by Francesca De Rosa]