Or far too many. 🙂 If you’ve ever discussed with me the musical The Phantom of the Opera, you’ve probably picked up on my deep admiration for Raoul de Chagny. Why, you may ask, do I admire him?—the character who had the audacity to fall in love with the girl he grew up with? The character who thinks a noose-wielding kidnapper is dangerous and must be stopped? The man who risked his life to save the woman he loved? I mean, really.
Now that the sarcasm is out of my system (for now), on to the point: Raoul gets maligned and accused with his faults blown so out of proportion that he could sue for character defamation (and I just got a hilarious mental image of De Chagny vs. Webber over Love Never Dies). But all of that slander and hate is not fair to Raoul because of his behavior, his roles in the story (he has several), and his personality. In fact, there’s a lot more to Raoul than meets the eye; his character depth and his reasoning becomes clearer the more you watch the stage show or think about it or listen to the music. The jury is still out on whether I’ve done too much of all that; but good, heroic characters are rare in this culture, and they should be defended.
First, to establish that Raoul is more than a hot piece of cardboard, here are his roles in the musical:
- Main character. Not the protagonist, but he’s a dynamic character (regardless of the energy of the actor) whose strengths and flaws drive the story forward. When Raoul refused to listen to Christine that night in the dressing room, the Phantom got the perfect opportunity to reveal himself. But the very fact Raoul renewed his friendship with Christine enabled her to confide in him later. He is a stable and comforting presence in her life, something she sorely needs—but he also complicates her relationship with the Phantom.
- Love interest to Christine. This should be obvious, so that’s all I’ll say about that.
- Contrast to the Phantom. Raoul is practical and straightforward; the Phantom is elaborate and manipulative. Raoul is wealthy and titled; the Phantom is outcast from society. Raoul apparently had a happy life; the Phantom has a tragic backstory. (I could go on, but I’m tired of hitting the semicolon key.) The contrast between these characters highlights the personality and behavior of each, adding depth and power to the story and giving Christine two distinct choices. Which leads into Raoul’s last and most important role, which is–
- Hero. For Christine to be torn between the two men, her options have to be evenly balanced. If Raoul was a jerk, she would have traded one problem for another, and the power of her compassion and sacrifice would be lost. The Phantom is a sympathetic, complex character, but he is a dangerous antagonist. Christine grows wiser and stronger throughout the story, but she’s not in a position to resist the Phantom alone. She needs help—but not selfish help (or the issue of trading one problem &etc. still applies) and not passive help, someone driven by the story instead of driving it. For Raoul to fulfill the role of hero, he has to behave like one.
So look at his actions: what does he do in the story?
The audience hears of Raoul before we see him; and what we hear is that he’s a new patron of the opera, presumably wealthy, and will attend the performance that night. The first action we see from him, however, is recognizing and applauding Christine—and if you’re wondering why it took three acts for the light bulb to shine, the playbills probably didn’t have her name on them. She was cast at the last minute, and there wasn’t time to re-print everything. (Although I guess the managers could have told him her name beforehand…)
Anyway, this aristocratic young man remembers the peasant girl he played with as a child and the stories they enjoyed. I read some tumblr and blog posts saying the line “slave of fashion” meant that Raoul courted Christine because she was now a popular star—soliciting her favor was, basically, the fashionable thing to do. But if that was his motive, why does he bring up such a humble topic when he meets her? He doesn’t flirt or mention anything impressive about himself, or really even refer to her performance. And since he has no qualms reminiscing aloud in the theatre box, his request to see Christine alone isn’t pride. He would rather be remembered as the little boy who fetched her scarf than announced as the Vicomte de Chagny.
But he doesn’t just assume Christine will remember him as well. It was smart to mention the red scarf, as this would trigger her memory and confirm who he was; but she did remember him, as evidenced by her line, “So it is you!”
Of all things to discuss after they’ve grown up, and he’s titled, and she’s made a hit onstage, what does Raoul talk about? Their childhood. Their shared memories. He seems to value their friendship more than anything else, a friendship he clearly wants to renew. Christine, on her side, quickly informs Raoul about the Angel of Music, which says something for her level of trust in him. But Raoul, being the straightforward, both-feet-on-the-ground type, takes this reference symbolically—his doing so actually compliments the beauty of her voice and simultaneously squashes the claim that he hates music (yeah, it’s out there). I won’t mention specific portrayals often, as the point is Raoul’s scripted words and actions rather than an actor’s interpretation; but in the 2004 film, after Christine says, “I have been visited by the Angel of Music,” Patrick Wilson’s Raoul replies earnestly “Oh, no doubt of it!”
All that said, he should have asked her to supper rather than declaring they would go. He should also have turned back when she called after him, and should have at least listened to her protests and respected them. The man had a listening problem, and I won’t ignore or excuse that. Perhaps, after the end of the musical, he looked back over the events and realized a lot of that could have been prevented.
I’ve often wondered what he did after finding Christine gone. Since he’s determined to renew their friendship, he wouldn’t just think, “Whelp, she’s gone. Might as well get some supper…like, on my own; thanks, Christine.” No, he would get to the bottom of the matter and would probably ask patrons, performers, and the managers if they’d seen her. I have a head canon that in his frantic search, he runs into a reporter wanting to interview the new star, which is how her disappearance got into the paper so quickly.
Through the songs “Notes,” “Prima Donna,” “Il Muto,” and “Why Have You Brought Me Here?”, Raoul is confused and cranky at the goings-on—understandably, once you think about the situation—and his reasoning seems a little odd. But what we have to remember is the knowledge Raoul has thus far, as well as his motives and the character he displays through the story as a whole. These factors give clues about his reasoning during these four songs.
For starters, Raoul doesn’t have the information about the Phantom that the audience has. Without that, the events of Act I are absolutely bizarre. Think about it: Christine vanishes from a locked dressing room; then hours later, Raoul receives an unsigned note that is vague about Christine’s whereabouts, that asks him to assume she’s unharmed for no good reason, and that tells him to take a hike for no reason at all. Imagine receiving a note that claims the Loch Ness Monster has your girlfriend safely in hand, so you can just mind your own business. Irate doesn’t begin to describe the reaction, and no man in his right mind would leave matters at that.
But Raoul doesn’t have much to go on, since the message was so cryptic: “Do not fear for Miss Daae; the Angel of Music has her under his wing. Make no attempt to see her again.” The most he can deduce is that someone knows where Christine is and also objects to his interest in her. He did not believe the Angel of Music was a literal person when Christine mentioned it, and he doesn’t believe it now. The only conclusion he can draw is that the managers sent the note.
But why the managers? Well, they had witnessed his request to see her alone, and they only—he thought—had the information to write “Make no attempt to see her again.” Also, as management, Andre and Firmin would have been notified (ha!) whenever Christine was located since she was their employee. With implication that the note-writer knows Christine’s whereabouts, Raoul assumes that the men most likely to have this recent information were responsible.
His reasoning is logical, but wrong, thanks to missing information. But after reading the other notes written in the same hand, making strange and bold demands with no authority to back them up, Raoul realizes that the writer not only has a fixation on Christine—but that this person is possibly mad. And he knew of her disappearance, her return, and her job at the opera, indicating that he was sneaking around where he wasn’t supposed to be, or that Christine knew him personally. Raoul seems to assume the latter: “Christine spoke of an angel…is this her angel of music? Angel or madman? Orders! Warnings! Lunatic demands! Surely for her sake, I must see these demands are rejected! Christine must be protected!”
During Il Muto (or the attempt), Raoul deliberately sits in Box Five. He tells Andre and Firmin that there were no other seats available, but the lyrics read as though he used “no other seats available” as an excuse, especially as opera seats and boxes probably would have been booked long before the performance. Chances are, he hoped to catch the perpetrator, thinking that rejected demands = the madman shows up to create the disaster = I catch him in Box Five and end the problem.
Except that the madman doesn’t appear in Box Five. He complains about his usurped box, upstages Carlotta, and kills Buquet—which probably confirms in Raoul’s mind that Christine was in danger.
Hearing her call for help, Raoul rushes to her side, and they go to the roof. But, oddly enough, she is convinced that a “Phantom of the Opera” killed Buquet, and will kill her, and will kill others. This makes no sense to Raoul; he believes that Christine is indeed in danger, but not from any Phantom. He is apparently acquainted with the Opera Ghost rumor, but he has no reason to believe it. He never saw the events backstage; and being a recent patron, had probably not heard tales of falling scenery and such. He really is the level-headed, both-feet-on-the-ground type, and refuses to believe anything without solid evidence. In fact, he tries to convince Christine that “this Phantom is a fable!” and that he knows the events are not supernatural, but the workings of a madman. “Believe me—there is no Phantom of the Opera!”
Christine remains adamant, and Raoul tries to determine what on earth she’s talking about, and if, perhaps, she’s referring metaphorically to someone: “…Who is this man, this mask of death? Whose is this voice you hear with every breath? And in this labyrinth where night is blind, the Phantom of the Opera is there inside your mind.” It makes no sense–that he can see–for her to be obsessed like this: she’s trusting, caring, and nostalgic, but not an idiot. He can’t figure it out, but nonetheless tries to comfort her.
Christine has been his priority from the moment he reestablished their friendship. And even though “All I Ask of You” is romantic duet, Raoul first speaks of her safety and peace of mind. In fact, the entire first verse is pretty much Raoul focusing (again) on her welfare, only this time, he’s promising to personally protect her and asking her to accept this involvement. Not only does he want to be her guardian, he also wants to be her hope and encouragement: he’s concerned about her peace of mind as well as her safety.
And he’s not focused on anything she can give him, nor is he filling a void in his own life. He’s focused instead on what he can give her. At the same time, his feelings come through clearly: he loves her, pure and simple, and he proves it by his actions through the rest of the musical. It’s ironic that he says “My words will warm and calm you”—they do, but he goes far beyond mere talk.
What’s interesting is that Raoul doesn’t propose or directly refer to a long-term relationship until Christine responds positively to his suit. She’s the first to specify a long term-relationship with the phrases “every waking moment” and “now and always,” and when she says outright “and you, always beside me, to hold me and to hide me,” then Raoul proposes. The commitment involves them both, but he leaves the acceptance up to her. At the same time, he wants assurance that she loves him in return, that she truly desires him in her life—as her husband.
And on that note, let me say this: 19th century men were more knowledgeable about anything sexual than women were. Raoul is also young and aristocratic—point being, he is surely aware of sexual feeling and desire. But at the moment, his focus is on answering Christine’s needs and on their shared relationship rather than arousing her or arousing himself. People call Erik the “adult” choice for his dark, passionate allure, and call Raoul “childish” for not touching or exciting any feelings of sexuality. Newsflash: in the world God designed, sexuality is lawful, permissible, enjoyable—after marriage. The fact that Raoul does not ooze sexuality nor awaken it in Christine before their marriage is a form of restraint that aligns with God’s plan for sexual behavior.
Also now is a good time to point out the obvious: “All I Ask of You” is duet, involving Raoul and Christine. They both love each other, they both need and want each other, they both commit, and they both sacrifice for each other: “Anywhere you go, let me go too.” Raoul initiates and asks, but Christine encourages and accepts. And with that, they pledge their love.
Then Christine loses her fear and hurries back to the opera. And I have to address an unnecessary accusation against Raoul: floating around on Pinterest are screencaps of Christine singing: “Say you love me” and Raoul’s response: “You know I do.” And several pinner captions have posed the question: Did he actually say it? The answer is yes. For one thing, he has promised action that is the fruit of love, and he fulfills those promises later. But he also says the words directly, calling after her, “Christine, I love you!” This and a reprise of the chorus of “All I Ask of You” are Raoul’s last words in Act I.
And that is a good stopping place for what has turned into Part One of a dissertation about our Vicomte. Stay tuned for Part Two!