As a musical, The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack is different from most movie scores by the nature of its form, but like 2002's Chicago, The Phantom of the Opera has already been a popular and well renowned Broadway show for eighteen years (since 1986). Despite the fact that Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote some additional music for this cinematic release, there are therefore very few musical surprises; anyone who has seen the original play will find this album quite familiar in many respects. There are two separate commercial releases of this score: a single disk soundtrack and a two disk special edition version. The former is a typical soundtrack with all of the best moments from the musical, and if this is considered similar to a Broadway highlights album, the latter would be about equal with an original cast recording: it contains a more complete track list of the music, but has dialogue and some sound effects in addition. Such dialogue, which serves to connect the songs and make the album more of a recording of the play than just the music, is somewhat distracting. If you're looking for a good, smooth listen, the single disk is perfect; the special addition is really only worth the money for Broadway fans who prefer to listen to the album as they would the play itself.
Musically, The Phantom of the Opera is, of course, outstanding; if anything, in the eighteen years Webber has had to think about it, he has only made it better. His use of the song melodies as themes for the score continues, with some wonderful brass cues, most notably at the end of "The Point of No Return" when the chandelier crashes (track 12; track 9 of the second special edition disk); this was used toward the end of the theatrical trailer. He has also changed some of the orchestration style. For example, the song "Phantom of the Opera" ends with Christine singing a wordless melody for the Phantom and was originally scored with organ and strings; for the movie, Webber has added an electric guitar descant (track 5; track 6 on the first special edition disk). This may seem slightly anachronistic for the setting of the movie, but the sound color alone is wonderful. Regarding the new songs Webber wrote for the movie, they are somewhat unremarkable, as the best melodies are still the classic ones from the original, but the new material also fits into the play seamlessly. I have seen the play on stage and I know the music rather well, but it is still possible a diehard fanatic may find the new music out of place in an already extraordinary musical.
There have been concerns about the casting of the main characters, and as much as I wanted to love this cast, I have to agree that vocally, they do not hold up to the Broadway performers. Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum are no Michael Crawford or Sarah Brightman. However, Brightman and Crawford, and such touring Phantoms as Brad Little, are exceptional singers, and I would imagine are cast for the voices before their acting abilities. "The Music of the Night" is the song that best demonstrates the Phantom's voice: I first heard Brad Little's version, so even Crawford doesn't hold up to him. But Little and Crawford take Webber's song and play with their vocal ranges and sounds, so when Gerard Butler sings it in a fairly straightforward manner, it pales in comparison. To be honest, knowing the original music, I was not impressed with this cast: Butler's low range is quiet and strained, his accent comes through, and his voice often lacks the clarity and power of his predecessors. In all fairness, however, taken alone and without comparison to the Broadway casts, these actors do more than hold their own. When casting a movie, acting ability is probably most important and voice must be further considered with camera presence and looks, because the cinematography brings the audience right up close with the actors in a way stage cannot even for the front row seats. To focus again on the Phantom, Butler does sing well: he hits the notes, and though he doesn't have the flexibility to play with the songs, they still work. His voice has a gruffness to it that actually fits the character rather well, and he does achieve several powerful moments: in the reprise of "All I Ask of You" (track 9; track 14 on the first special edition disk), and in "The Point of No Return" just before the chandelier crash (track 12; track 9 of the second special edition disk). Emmy Rossum (Christine) is not an opera singer, but she does rather well. I particularly like the song "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" (track 11; track 4 on the second special edition disk), which she builds nicely toward the end.
Overall, this film cast does not stand on par with the Broadway casts, but considered on their own, they do a good job. The regular soundtrack is a great listen, and the special edition contains a little more if you either ignore or prefer the dialogue and other movie sounds. Regardless of the cast, the eighteen years that have passed, and the musical being on film, this is still Webber at his best.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical adaptation of Gaston Leroux's 1911 gothic mystery novel The Phantom of the Opera proved to be at least the composer's second most successful project, behind only Cats, and with the potential to outdo even that blockbuster. The musical opened in London in October 1986 and in New York in January 1988, and both productions were still running (along with many others around the world) when the film version finally premiered in December 2004. Because the same starring performers, Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, moved from the West End to Broadway, there was no original Broadway cast recording, the original London cast album serving to represent both stagings. In line with the success of the show, that album, a double-disc set, was also a hit, selling four million copies in the U.S. alone by 1996, with another four million copies of a single-disc highlights version as well. Although there was also an original Canadian cast album (not to mention foreign-language versions from such countries as Japan and Austria), the movie soundtrack represents the first major re-recording of the score since 1986. Again, Lloyd Webber has opted to issue it in two versions, but this time, the 63-minute single CD is considered the standard release, with the double-disc set billed as the Special Edition version. Even fans of the show and the film may want to stick with the shorter one, however. The two-hour special edition is that rarity, a soundtrack album that actually contains the complete, unedited film soundtrack, including dialogue, incidental background music, and sound effects. This, of course, makes it something of an odd listening experience, especially because there doesn't seem to be any reason why some dialogue is spoken and some is rendered in singsong recitative. Lloyd Webber has written some extra background music here and there, as well as one new song, and that's an oddity, too. Minnie Driver, who plays the prima donna Carlotta, had her singing dubbed by Margaret Preece, but she turns up at the end and, over the closing credits, sings "Learn to Be Lonely," an irrelevant and musically out-of-place song clearly composed just to have a new tune that would be Academy Award eligible. The film's other singers are adequate but no competition to Crawford, Brightman, and their colleagues, and the initial recording remains the one to buy.
However, despite how good Dolby TrueHD can sound, don't fret too much if you still don't have a receiver capable of producing the format. Indeed, even if you have to had to "settle" for the plain old 5.1 Dolby Digital-Plus track also included on the disc it's still a terrific mix. The filmmakers spared no expense in bringing 'Phantom's songtrack to life, as well they should -- it is the heart of any musical. Dynamic range here is superb for Dolby Digital, wonderfully reproducing every last musical nuance. The midrange and high-end is very evocative in conveying the film's operatic musical moment, lending a you-are-there quality that is up there with the best I've heard in a home theater. I also like the way the score was balanced in the surrounds, with select instruments spread subtlety across the rear speakers, but not overtly so, which ensures the soundtrack doesn't become too gimmicky and distract from the story being told. Bass response is also excellent throughout, with some heavy low tones really giving the music a heft and oomph in the darkest moments. Certainly, go with the TrueHD if you can, but 'The Phantom of the Opera' still sounds great no matter which way you slice it.
Warner Bros. was one of the first proponents of the DVD format, originally named Digital Versatile Disc. It's sad, then, that the company has resorted to a silly exercise of marketing three different Phantom DVD packages. There's the Widescreen Edition, Full Screen (for those who don't understand the significance of seeing the movie as the director originally intended), and the 2-Disc Special Edition in Widescreen. The difference in suggested retail price between the movie-only editions and special edition is a measly $2 (which, in turn, is cut to $1 on Amazon). 2b1af7f3a8