Charles Garnier’s dazzling Opera house is famous for its enchanting operatic tragedies, elegant ballets and for inspiring the legend of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ Behind every tale there is a truth. From the falling chandelier to the underground lake, explore the fact behind the fiction of the Phantom of the Opera.
In 1909 the story of Gaston Leroux’s ’Phantom’ was first published as a series in French paper ‘Le Gaulois’. it was a tantalising fiction littered with real life locations, public figures of the time and potential evidence for the supernatural making the notion of a real phantom who haunted the Opera a myth all to easy to swallow. Yet with adaptations like the 1925 silent horror to Andre Lloyd Webber’s hit musical, the story and its spectre have been altered and masked.
Could this be the REAL home of the Phantom of hte Opera?
Our first inspection is the mysterious underground lake the phantom inhabits, surely nothing more than a wonderful figment of author Leroux’s imagination, yet records of the Opera houses construction shed light on the myth.
In 1861 while clearing space to lay the foundations of the building, workmen where halted and baffled by a continual bubbling source of water a branch of the seine river had spouted right on the site of the building.
Numerous failed attempts at draining the source left them with no choice but to man and canal the water creating a lake underneath the very foundations of the building.
Could this be the real home of the Phantom? It is not hard to imagine the ghostly tales told by those working in these dark dingy gas lit corridors While closed to the public the subterranean reservoir is used by the Paris Fire Department to practice diving in the pitch black. Not for the faint hearted!
What inspired Leroux to make his infamous anti hero a ghost, did he really believe the structure to be haunted? If he did he was not alone, perhaps he simply capitalised on popular stories circulating at the time as the base of his story. With Paris’ bloody and tumultuous past you don’t have to dig very far to find a horror story.
The prologue of Leroux’s story opens with the narrator explaining that a body was uncovered while the basement was used to store phonographic records. According to the story the body was inaccurately identified as being a victim of the Paris commune, a bloody failed 2 month coup d’etat where around 25,000 Parisians were killed in mass executions. The Commune saw fighting and executions in many of the streets of the 9th aroundisment around the Opera house, and the building was even used as by the Communards. While Leroux would have us believe the body uncovered was really that of the Phantom’s there is an even more haunting tale behind the true history of the building.
Then of course there is the incident of the falling chandelier, a memorable moment from the book, film and musical. In 1896 another tragic event will take place in the Opera House. A faulty counterweight on the magnificent chandelier fell crushing to death the Concierge who was visiting the Opera House for the first time.
Sound familiar? Leroux weaves this death into his story for the climatic final scene where the fantom kills an audience member before capturing Christy.