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Inside the Phantom of the Opera’s Iconic Wardrobe

Phantom of the Opera. Courtesy

The buzz surrounding Phantom of the Opera has been building since last year when it was announced Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit West End show would be making its Middle East debut this October. An undisputed blockbuster and the longest-running show in Broadway history, Phantom has won more than 70 major theatre awards, including seven Tony Awards on Broadway and four Olivier Awards in the West End. The excitement is therefore clearly justified.

Based on the classic novella Le Fantôme de L’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, the show tells the tale of a disfigured musical genius known only as the Phantom who plagues the underbelly of the Paris Opera House. Mesmerized by a young soprano named Christine, the Phantom lures her as his protégéand falls ferociously in love with her. Unaware of Christine’s love for Raoul, the Phantom’s obsession sets the scene for a dramatic turn of events where jealousy, madness and passion collide.

Chief Executive Officer of Broadway Entertainment Group, Liz Koops, says, “We have been working long and hard to bring Phantom to the Middle East and we’re overwhelmed with the excitement and positive response we have received. We guarantee an unforgettable and remarkable experience.”

Phantom of the Opera. Courtesy

With 130 cast, crew and orchestra members, impressive scenery and innovative special effects, Phantom remains strong even 30 years after its debut due to its high production values. The late Maria Björnson’s Tony Award-winning wardrobe design is wonderfully OTT – an exhilarating barrage of costumes and lavish sets that perfectly captures the lavishness of the world of Paris opera in the 1850s.

“We used drapes swagging downwards and upwards,” Björnson once wrote, “dark Turkish corners leading off to nowhere, and candles rising out of the floor through mist.” Inspired by the subterranean glamour of Paris, she imagined a misty underground lake and studded the proscenium with gilded figures. When Lloyd Webber introduced the musical to friends at his country home, Bjornson prepared a chandelier to plunge over the audience, a rousing effect that also appeared in the full production.

When Björnson died suddenly at the age of 53, she was at the center of revelatory transformations in opera production. Her designs were extravagant and yet simultaneously unsettling, as she perfected a unique idiom of romantic expressionism. Despite variations and evolutions, every costume piece worn in Phantom today originated in Björnson’s design. “She was interested in developing the show,” says Associate Costume Designer Sam Fleming. “Over time, we have done five different sculpts for the phantom mask itself because she kept wanting it to be more interesting. I’m sure if Maria were still alive today she’d still be improving the show because she was just that kind of person.”

Phantom of the Opera. Courtesy

“We have 370-odd costumes in the show and on a daily basis we use 280 of them,” says Head of Wardrobe, Sharon Williams. “We have a huge department…Maria Björnson’s background was in opera so costumes used in the opera numbers are a reflection of those worn traditionally. There are moments of [characters] coming out in hugely spectacular costumes –  very complicated pieces where every little detail has been considered, from the gold thread and the beads to the headdresses; we’re literally relining and remaking them so that they look, hopefully, as good as when they were first made.”

Phantom of the Opera. Courtesy

The Phantom of the Opera at Dubai Opera, opening October 16. Tickets from AED250, visit dubaiopera.com or the Dubai Calendar app, and Virgin Megastores across the UAE

 Performance times:

Monday to Thursday at 8pm

Friday & Saturday at 2pm and 8pm

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