Nothing sends a bone-chilling tingle down my spine more than the opening chord of a certain piece of music. When it comes to being asked what scares me the most in media, most people would probably pick a scare from a movie or TV show. There are many great scares to choose from, but for me, I get that sense of dread feeling the most when I hear the “Overture” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. The notes give me such a visceral reaction that whenever I hear that chord, I am at once both frightened and then shortly after, entertained. It is one of those pieces of music that will give you a jump scare if you are not expecting it to be played. Granted, that could be said for almost any song if you have it cranked and people are not expecting it, but when it happens with this song, it just feels different.
I always remember people would request this song to be played at “The Organ Grinder” in downtown Toronto back in the day and if you knew the request was coming, you would people watch to see the reactions of the patrons when that chord hit. It was a guaranteed jump scare. I’m sure others might have the same reaction by hearing Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” or Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” but this is the piece of music that does it the most for me. What’s amazing is that I don’t even need the visuals to go along with the music.
The Phantom of the Opera was the first musical I ever saw and it has informed my love of theatre ever since. I would listen to the Canadian Cast Recording ad nauseam. I had the opening dialogue memorized that would lead into the overture. The more I got into the show, the more I wanted to hear different interpretations, so I began finding and listening to cast recordings from around the world. What was fascinating to me was how different actors would read the dialogue, especially at the end when the word “gentlemen” is said. Some actors would read the opening scene very flat, others were a little more nuanced with the pronunciation, while others put their absolute heart and soul on that word, literally raising their voice with each syllable of “GEN-TLE-MEN!!!” Then that chord hits. Fear!
As fans of the show know, when the overture plays, it is the sequence where we are introduced to the infamous chandelier that gets raised from the stage to the ceiling of the theatre. What I love about this sequence is how simple and effective it is, as for just over two minutes you are transfixed watching the chandelier being lit up and raised to the rafters. That’s it. Nothing is happening on stage (with the exception of the stagehands furiously getting the next scene ready when the overture ends). The music that accompanies it is perfect. It is almost telling you that you are in for quite the ride, whether you are just listening to the soundtrack or getting to experience it live.
Hearing that music play can be nightmare inducing, so to help with that, I will end my piece with the dialogue that I once had committed to memory. I dare you to read it and then play the overture before you go to sleep, if you can!
“Lot 666, then: a chandelier in pieces. Some of you may recall the strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera: a mystery never fully explained. We are told ladies and gentlemen,
that this is the very chandelier which figures in the famous disaster. Our workshops have
restored it and fitted up parts of it with wiring for the new electric light, so that we may get a
hint of what it may look like when re-assembled. Perhaps we may frighten away the ghost of so many years ago with a little illumination, gentlemen?”