“Le Fantôme de l’Opéra,” known in English as “The Phantom of the Opera,” was written by French author Gaston Leroux and published as a novel in 1910. Leroux was inspired to write the book by rumors about a ghost said to walk the halls of the opera house “Palais Garnier” in Paris – said ghost turned from superstition to fortuitous existence at the end of 1896 during the performance of the opera “Helle” when a chandelier came crashing down, allegedly on the stage, resulting in death and injuries of performers and patrons. If you want to read the novel’s summary, you can do so here. In short, the book is about a Parisian opera house “haunted” by a mysterious and alluring phantom. The phantom falls in love with soprano Christine, which causes quite a bit of trouble for the opera house and the three lead characters. It is a story about romance, obsession, suspense, and mystery – yet this short plot summary does not do the novel justice.
In 1922, Leroux gave a copy of the book to German American film producer Carl Laemmle (co-founder and owner of Universal Pictures), which resulted in the 1925 silent horror film adaptation starring Lon Chaney as the phantom. One hundred years of adaptations and evolutions of the novel were to follow all over the world. Most notable is Andrew Lloyd’s Webber adaptation, the 1986 Broadway musical that is the longest-running show in Broadway history. The original production ended almost a year ago, on April 16, 2023, struggling to overcome attendance reductions pre- and post-pandemic. There is no doubt that it will restart sometime in the future.
Lloyd Webber meshed various styles from the grand operas of Meyerbeer through Mozart to Gilbert and Sullivan. These are single verses or short musical pieces meant as a score within the score. Some of these fragments are inspired by progressive rock; for example, the signature, chromatic 5-note, descending eighth-note run from the major root to the augmented 5th below was initially part of the 1971 track “Echoes” by Pink Floyd. It is one of my all-time favorites – and best – tracks of the group for many reasons, including that the lyrical work in the piece is about human connection and empathy when the world lacks both. It is not a mystery why Lloyd Webber was “inspired” by it (deliberately in quotes since it could otherwise truthfully be labeled for what it is). Moving beyond the Broadway or West End musicals and landing firmly in other styles of musical inspiration and adaptation, the “Phantom of the Opera” has provided opportunities for many diverse genres covered by artists such as Nightwish and Lindsay Stirling, to mention a few.
The novel and the musical could not be any more different in their approach to the story. The book is an in-depth, at times tedious, but worthwhile exploration of human traits, empathy and antipathy, subjugation and surrender, jealousy and vindictiveness, love and hate, judgment and acceptance, all intertwined, cloaked in mystery, a journey of language clues between characters to come to a philosophical conclusion. The novel is harsh and gritty and does not spare horrific interactions. It highlights every dark and deformed side of humanity, concealed and apparent, contrasting violently with its opposite emotions and feelings. The musical is sweeping and skewed, emotional and fast-paced, with uneasy ooh and ahh moments, ultimately resulting in a foreseeable yet tempered ending: two distinct approaches, two divergent endings.
Insert the “Phantom of the Opera” cover by Golden Salt: a 2-minute representation of said divergence and true combined essence of the novel’s philosophical meaning and a nod to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. This mind-bending cover piece by Arianna Mazzarese and Eleonora Loi once again showcases the duo’s ability to conceptualize the abstract of a phantom notion, or existence, as a series of notes based on the harsh struggle between human motivations and empathetic feelings when a mask conceals what it should and should not. The first deceptively restrained, almost tiptoeing yet sweeping entry notes keep leading the listener with a mellow yet progressively uneasy, not-so-innocuous melody up the steps and onto an eerily set stage.
Suddenly, yet unsurprisingly, that spooky sensation of unexplainable discomfort clashes with the reality of the “phantom’s” existence. The fearsome intensity of the realization is made palpable through the merciless declamation by the unignorable powerful vibration of guitar chords: a complex, deep, prolonged forcefulness underlined by drumming heartbeats. The not-so-delicate shrills and thrills of an alarmed but not unaware violin intersperse, and the encounter comes to a shuddering halt before it tentatively resumes. The phantom, represented by the electric guitar, quiesces and spars, relents, hardens, and once again relents. This cover highlights Eleonora Loi’s rock guitarist talent more than ever; her passionate and soulful interpretation of this piece is palpable in her sustained solo. This cover offers an otherworldly moment of syntony, concession, and demand, making the listener draw a breath, wondering if it lasts and what will happen next. And… It rests in anyone’s imagination, as any good book—cheeky musical genius.
Though fans of this dynamic duo eagerly await Golden Salt’s third and second all-original album later this year, as indicated by the composers on social media, the unexpected release of this skillful and impressive cover caught most by surprise, especially in light of the statement made by Golden Salt a little over a year ago that they would not produce any more covers and dedicate themselves exclusively to their original compositions. Not a complaint at all as listeners, mind you! As a bonus, a video release on the duo’s YouTube channel has also been announced for this Sunday, January 28th. If history is any indication, there is little to no doubt that Golden Salt will once again deliver a memorable performance in a stunning setting.
The video location for Golden Salt’s “Phantom of the Opera” cover is once again a breathtaking location. The duo performs inside a “nuraghe,” a structure part of the ancient megalithic edifices found in, and typical of, Sardinia (Eleonora Loi’s home region) and built during the Bronze Age. These structures are, on average, 20 meters tall (or 60 feet or six stories) and have the outer shape of a clipped conical tower, with a circular wall supporting a domed roof – and stand only by the weight of their stones. Their function is unclear: they could have been anything, from residences to strongholds. Today, less than 7,000 of these buildings are left standing, most of which can be found in the island’s northwest and south-central parts. Nuraghe structures are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site List. Interesting fact: The entrance orientations of these structures, coinciding with sunrise at the winter solstice, seem to align with the Alpha Centauri star system.
The entrance to a nuraghe building leads into a corridor, on whose sides are often open niches that lead to a round chamber. It is in this chamber that the duo chose to perform, using natural lighting and bathing the atmosphere with unobtrusive spotlights all around, maximizing the stunning setting by keeping it raw, as-is, to be appreciated for its architectural features and ethereal sound resonance, both absorbing and reflective, turning a whisper into noise or bellows into murmurs. In a departure from Golden Salt’s established story-telling video productions and relying solely on the passion and interpretation of the “Phantom of the Opera,” the duo expresses the climaxes and decrescendos of this cover composition with imagistic expressions and movements, letting their instruments smoothly bridge the musical verse transitions. The result is a suspended state left to the listener’s and viewer’s perception – entirely in line with the novel itself.