A Few Notes About Christine Daae…

It’s finally here!  The post that I promised months ago and kept forgetting about or pushing to the back burner meticulously wrote and rewrote until it is the epitome of literary analysis!  Or theatre analysis.  So without further ado, here’s Part 1 of this dissertation!  (Similar posts about Raoul are here and here.)

I thought Christine was a flat character when I first watched the 25th Anniversary concert.  She seemed far less interesting than the Phantom or Raoul.  One is a man outcast from society through no fault of his own, yet who chose to terrorize the Opera House.  His loneliness and attraction to Christine makes him a conflicted and multi-leveled character.  And sympathetic, if you can get past the whole habitual-choking-people-who-cross-him.  The other is the hero of the story, a man with some faults (listening problem for one), yet who was willing to devote the rest of his life to caring for his  fiancée and loving her, and willing to risk his life for her.  Then there’s Christine…obsessed with a voice whom she believes is the ghost of her father…then she learns he’s actually a man…then spends half the musical freaked out yet fascinated by him, but then in Final Lair, she kisses him.

Then I took a second look at her character.  And I found that there was a lot more to Christine’s personality than meets the eye.

For starters, she is more dynamic than people give her credit for, and she grows and changes during the story.  Her actions are subtle, but not passive.  She makes—and acts on—crucial decisions in at least four cases: she chooses to trust Raoul rather than the Phantom; she lets go of the memories holding her back; she sings in Don Juan to help capture the Phantom; and she chooses to remain with the Phantom, to give him the compassion he needed and to free Raoul.  Nobody forced her to do any of that.  And she makes other, smaller choices throughout the musical that, while not obvious, nonetheless influence the story.

That said, a lot of her motives are ambiguous, left up to actress interpretation.  I think this was done on purpose so that each production could choose whether to show Christine in love with the Phantom or in love with Raoul.  But as I pointed out in my posts about Raoul, you must look at her actions and the character she displays through the whole story.  Her actions point toward her motives.

We hear of Christine before we see her; and what we hear is that she often spoke of the music box that Raoul buys at the opera auction.  And spoke of it in detail, enough detail for Raoul to verify the artifact at the auction.  Why Christine referred to this music box, a relic of days that were full of betrayal and terror, is also a mystery “never fully explained”.  Whether she spoke of those days with longing, fear, or just recurring memory is not specified.  But the fact that Raoul speaks of Christine even though she is no longer there indicates the influence she had on him.  And the narrative of her often speaking of the music box shows the influence the events of the whole musical had upon her.

Since Andrew Lloyd Webber habitually rewrites the lyrics of the show, some productions give details of Christine’s character that are missing from others.  In one version of the libretto, the audience first meets Christine dancing ballet—and dancing out of step, and Madame Giry tells the managers that she often has her head in the clouds.  This line is missing from the film and from the 25th Anniversary Concert at Royal Albert Hall.  In another version of the libretto and also in the film, Madame Giry informs the managers of Christine’s relationship to the Swedish violinist.  In the 25th Anniversary concert, Christine does this herself.

So Christine’s first actions and lines change depending on the whims of ALW which version of the libretto is used.  But she is certainly a member of the ballet corps, and the daughter of a Swedish violinist.  And she may also have the singing ability to take over the lead female role in Hannibal.  But when Andre asks who her vocal teacher is, Christine hesitates to share her secret with the whole Hannibal cast and says only that she doesn’t know who her tutor is.  It’s possible she knew the managers would not believe her if she said “he’s the Angel of Music,” and that she could be fired on the suspicion of being delusional or insane–but more likely, she saw no reason to trust the entire opera company with this knowledge.

While initially nervous as she begins the number “Think of Me,” Christine quickly gains confidence and shows that she can indeed handle the female lead role.  The managers immediately cast her Elissa, and this event subtly reveals a good deal about Christine’s character.  Firstly, she never objects to the star role.  She had a long and pleasant history with music; music strongly reminds her of her father (who played the violin and told her stories about the Angel of Music).  And later—something I never see mentioned—she says to the Phantom, “Grant to me your glory!” indication that she wanted further instruction of her voice, wanting more of what he had to teach her.

Secondly,  think what it must have taken to prepare for the female lead role in a 3-act opera.  Christine wasn’t even an understudy.  In a matter of minutes, she went from member of the ballet corps to the lead role, and she had to rehearse and remember new music, character, blocking, and vocals.  Not only did she prepare in time, she performed so well that she became a hit.  This reveals, not only the skill and beauty of her voice, but also her concentration, diligence, and acting capability.  Everyone hails the Phantom as the ultimate musical genius—and he is—but they overlook the implied extent of Christine’s skill.

After the opera, Christine tells Meg more about her mysterious tutor.  And her explanation makes her sound, quite frankly, air-headed.  But think about the events that led up to her belief in the Angel of Music.

In the first place, her father had promised to send this Angel.  Christine was very close to her father; she later refers to him as “my one companion,” and she implicitly trusted his word.  But there’s another, more believable, aspect to the situation.  Her father’s death left her alone, grieving, and emotionally vulnerable.  It also left her unprotected.  In 19th century theatre, male patrons of the opera often made romantic—or sexual—overtures to the ballet and chorus girls.  And while Christine and Meg are friends, there is no indication in the stage show that anyone besides the Phantom has stepped into the role of “guide and guardian.”  Thus, after her father’s death, Christine would be alone in the world, afraid for her safety, maybe afraid for her future (what social prospects did she have?) and grieving terribly.   And it must have been some comfort to think that the Angel was a messenger from her beloved father, and she seems to expect him to watch over her, not only to gift her with vocal instruction.  Thus, with grief and loneliness in her heart, with confidence in her father’s word, and with no other form of protection, it’s not much of a stretch that she decided the Phantom’s voice was indeed the Angel her father had promised.

However—despite her trust in her Angel, and despite her submission to his will—she fears him.  She’s not afraid of seeing him face-to-face; she actually wants him to reveal himself.  What she fears is the constant watchfulness.  Phans view this as mysterious and romantic, but Christine points out twice that her Angel is always with her, and the second time, specifies that “It frightens me.”  Though she does not want to be alone, this constant watchfulness is more than she bargained for.  Later, in the title song, the Phantom points out that “in all your fantasies, you always knew that man and mystery [were both in you].”  Thus, Christine may know (deep down) that the man’s voice is not really an Angel; and the alternative explanation makes her very uncomfortable.

She does not acknowledge this, however; perhaps fearing what would happen if she confronted the voice with her suspicions, or fearing to lose that one last link to her father.  Or simply maintaining trust in  her father’s word.  She does seem to recognize, however, how odd her belief sounds, and she doesn’t go around telling just anybody about it.  She tells only those she considers friends–first Meg, and later, Raoul.

Ardent admirers of Raoul (myself included) find it so sweet and romantic that he remembered the little girl he used to play with.  But Christine remembered him too.  When he mentioned her red scarf, she cries, “Oh, Raoul, so it is you!”  She suspected who he was when she read his note, and she rejoices to learn that her conclusion was correct.  She is also pleased that he remembered her, remembered the stories they used to play, and she joins him fondly in remembering their childhood.  Apparently, Raoul is also a reminder of her father, as she recalls her father playing the violin among the memories of her childhood escapades.

The very next thing she tells Raoul is that her father is dead—and that she has been visited by the Angel of Music.  She seems eager to share this information with him–notice that with Meg, Christine answered her friend’s inquiries; but here, she volunteers the information herself.  And she expects Raoul will believe in the Angel too, and insists that she can’t go to supper with him because “The Angel of Music is very strict.”

Interesting that she doesn’t refuse with a personal preference.  She doesn’t say “No, I don’t want to,” or “I have other plans,” or even, “I’m tired,” which would be perfectly natural after performing the star role in an opera.  She has no problem with going to supper with her old friend.  Christine’s sole objection is that her Angel is very strict.

But “strict” in what way?  The Phantom is not so unreasonable as to forbid her from getting supper.  He also never objected to Meg’s presence in the dressing room, not even to Christine explaining that he was her Angel of Music.  And Christine did not mention her Angel’s strictness to Meg.  It is only when a man offers to take her to supper that she says her Angel is very strict.  That implication?  The Phantom does not want Christine to associate with other men.

After Raoul leaves, Christine says aloud that “Things have changed, Raoul.”  But he is out of earshot by then, and the remark might have gotten his attention had he heard it.  It’s almost as though Christine is reminding herself that things have changed, that she can’t resume her acquaintance with Raoul because her angel would object.  And object he does.

Actually, the Phantom lashes out at Raoul, not at Christine for receiving him.  Nonetheless, Christine fears that even that little visit might be enough to make her Angel leave her.  “Stay by my side,” she begs after telling him that she is listening and attentive to his words.  Yet it is a fragile dependence; she apologizes for her “weak soul,” apparently terrified of driving him away if she is inattentive to his presence or if she does anything he might disapprove of.

On the other hand, she still believes he is a guardian, tutor, and protector sent by her father, and therefore, she trusts him enough to follow him into the tunnel behind the mirror.  She seems incredibly naïve–but the key here is that she trusts him.  After all, she believes he is an Angel, a messenger from her father, and her “guide and guardian” moreover.  She doesn’t go around believing or confiding in just anyone.  In fact, it’s the opposite, and she withholds personal information from people in general.  And once she realizes who her Angel really is, her confidence in him vanishes.

Mere minutes into the underground journey, Christine reveals that this man’s voice was with her in her dreams, calling to her.  (Whether his voice simply carried over into her subconscious—or whether the Phantom actually showed up and sang to her as she slept—is unspecified.)  Either way, Christine realizes that the voice in her head and the figure leading her down the tunnels were one and the same—and that this man is the Phantom of the Opera, not any Angel.

She also quickly figures out that the Phantom used her as a “mask” in the sense of showing his musical ability through her singing talent: “I am the mask you wear…” “It’s me they hear.”  And she mentioned that “Those who have seen your face draw back in fear,” but expresses no fear herself, merely points out what others do.  I’ve heard that many stage shows play this sequence as Christine being hypnotized, so one could argue that she has these revelations in a sort of trance.  But the next morning, some memories stuck in her mind: the journey across the lake, the Phantom’s music and voice, the sadness in his eyes.  She seemed to be under his influence to a degree, but she also retained enough of her own mind to piece together what was going on.

Most notably, she realizes–or rather, acknowledges–the reality of the situation.  The Phantom points out that “In all your fantasies, you always knew that man and mystery,” and Christine finishes, “…were both in you.”  She finally admits the truth she’d suspected: that the voice was no Angel but simply a man with tricks and mystery at his disposal.  And after the title song, she never again pretends the Phantom is something he’s not.  Nor does she call him “Angel” again until late in Act II.

Once in the lair, the Phantom sings a line that reveals as much about Christine as himself: “From the moment I first heard you sing, I have needed you with me to serve me, to sing for my music…”  Ignoring for now the possessive nature of this remark, it reveals that even before the Phantom’s training, Christine had a beautiful voice and musical talent entirely her own.  This potential is what got his attention in the first place, and shows Christine to be a realistic young lady rather than a perfect Mary Sue: she had talent, but it was talent that could be improved.  Not to mention the fact that her father was a violinist; Christine had been surrounded by music long before the Phantom came into her life.  Her gift and abilities do not derive entirely from him; he enhanced them, sure, but fans of the musical should not give the Phantom full credit for Christine’s talent.

Christine has no lines during “Music of the Night,” and the interpretation of this number depends on the actress and stage show.  She is hypnotized or entranced somehow, but she nonetheless registered and remember a few things.  As she tells Raoul later, she felt elation at the Phantom’s voice, at the freedom and expression and exhilaration that his music gave.  She “heard as [she’d] never heard before” while listening to the Phantom’s music, but she did not accept the his lure to the darkness.  She later speaks of the darkness with horror, and says, she wants “a world with no more night.”

When she wakes after her swoon, the first thing she remembers is the journey down to the lair—and that a man in a mask brought here.  Fully understanding that this person is no angel and no phantom either, her next priority is finding out who he is.  It does not seem to occur to her that the mask was there for a reason; on the other hand, since the guy lived in an elaborate lair underneath an opera house, she may have assumed it was theatricality.  But this, of course, is a wrong assumption.

After pulling off his mask, she is horrified by the deformity, and possibly by this further revelation about who her guardian is.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Christine connected the dots here or soon after and realized that the deformity is why he lives beneath the Opera House.  After the title song, she actually understands the realities of the situation pretty quickly.  At the moment, her reality is this: her guardian is not at all who she thought he was–and though he reacts violently to her pulling off his mask, he abruptly turns desperate, and expresses longing for human sympathy.  Christine registers the conflict in his soul, and hands him back his mask.

Upon returning to the opera house, Christine apparently told the Girys she wanted to see no one, and then secluded herself.  She may not have known whom to trust anymore.  Everybody accuses Christine of “betraying” the Phantom, but if you think about it, she was betrayed by him first.  Her last, precious link to her father was gone, and in fact never existed in the first place.  The guardian she trusted as her protector and as the messenger from her father turned out to be someone entirely different.  She is right back where she was when her father died: alone, frightened, and unprotected, and hurting from shattered trust.  Just imagine what she just have felt.

If Christine had known that the managers were disobeying the Phantom’s orders with their casting choice, she probably would have refused to play Serefimo. The memory of the Phantom’s possessiveness and strictness–and his anger when disobeyed or provoked–must have been fresh in her mind.  Thus, when the Phantom interrupts Ill Muto and demands explanation for the managers’ actions, Christine is terrified.  Not only is this the first time he has revealed his voice to everyone, she can only imagine what he will do now that the company has disobeyed his instructions.  Then, when he taunts Carlotta and ruins her voice, Christine realizes his vengeful power.  And when Buquet is murdered, she knows it was the Phantom’s doing. These revelations are more horrible than losing whom she thought was the angel from her father.  When Buquet falls dead to the stage, Christine cries out to Raoul for help—the only man she might be able to trust—and he instantly comes.

Fleeing to the roof (as far from the lair as possible), Christine’s fear initially seems histrionic.  But think about the situation: after accusing the managers of disobeying his instructions, whom does the Phantom kill?  Buquet.  If he killed a man who had never wronged him to make a point, then anyone in the opera house might be the next target.  And Christine had previously been his pupil, but then forsook his guardianship.  Who would be a better target for the Phantom’s anger?  She does not assume that her previous relationship with the Phantom or even his desire to have her sing his music will save her.  Furthermore, she was the only one who knew his true identity; when she tore of his mask, he erupted with anger and the ominous threat of “Now you cannot ever be free!”  And he had just demonstrated that he could, one way or another, get what he wanted and punish those who opposed him.

And where could she go to escape him?  If he could sneak around unseen in the opera house, he could probably find her if she tried to leave the  company.  Furthermore, she had only recently taken star roles, and before that, she had been a chorus and ballet girl—a job that did not pay well in 19th century theatre.  (I’ve done some research.)  She probably didn’t have the money to go anywhere else, and she couldn’t just walk away from her source of income and immediately find another job to support her.

She tries to convince Raoul that the Phantom actually exists—and since she had been so easily manipulated by the Phantom once before—since she still felt a pull to his music—she may also be afraid that she will fall under his spell and return to him semi-willingly.  And he would probably not let her return to the upper world again.  She insists she has been to the Phantom’s home, which she describes in no rosy terms, but as a “world of unending night”, and “a world where the daylight dissolves into darkness.”

However, the situation is more complex than that, and Christine knows it.  She then explains the beauty of the man’s voice, a power and skill that captured her soul even while she feared his sway.  Then she reveals had seen sadness, pleading in his eyes.  Think about that; after being taken underground to a strange place, being nearly hypnotized and then being frightened by his deformity, Christine had noticed and remembered the grief in the man’s eyes.  It’s significant that this is the final piece of information she imparts to Raoul: the first was the ugliness and terror of the Phantom; the second was the power and beauty of his music; but the third was his sadness and loneliness.  This speaks volumes for her priorities and her compassion.

It’s also at this point that I take back my first impression that Christine was emotionally weak.  Because even though Raoul has made it clear he does not believe her story, or at least can’t understand it, she keeps telling him about her experience with the Phantom.  It’s possible she’s just thinking aloud; but since she called out to Raoul when Buquet falls dead from the rafters—and he came at once—she must have some level of trust in him.  Remember that she doesn’t confide in just anyone; only in those whom she considers her friends.

Just imagine the relief and comfort Raoul’s words must have given to a girl who’d been lonely and unprotected for years.  But she has grown wiser in several ways since the beginning of the story.  Firstly, she stipulates different priorities for a relationship. Earlier, she referred to the Phantom as “guide and guardian” and wanted him to “grant to me your glory,” and “come to me, strange Angel” (i.e. to reveal himself).  But here, she asks Raoul to love her “every waking moment.”  To cheer her emotionally and mentally—and to need her.  The Phantom had said he needed her “to sing for my music,” but Christine asks Raoul whether he needs her with him, “now and always.”  She wants to make sure that she fills a need in his entire life, just as he fills a need in hers.

Secondly, Christine isn’t seeking temporary relief and protection.  She is the first to specify a lifelong commitment with her line, “Say you need me with you now and always.”  And she continues to refer to a lifelong commitment through the rest of the song.  But she isn’t using Raoul for emotional fulfillment either.  She does want his companionship and protection, but she says, “you’ll guard me and you’ll guide me.”  In other words, she recognizes the need for a wiser head in her life.

And thirdly, though she is willing to trust Raoul, she also seeks assurance of his faithfulness.  ““Promise me that all you say is true,” this being “All I ask of you.”  Think about that: she is willing to trust Raoul after being betrayed by the man she had trusted as her guardian.  This speaks volumes for her opinion of her childhood friend.  And through the rest of the musical, she does trust him.  There’s no indication she doubts his love or his commitment.  (She hesitates at the Don Juan plan, but not because she doubts Raoul will protect her, or even doubts that the plan is necessary.  On the contrary, she’s knows it’s necessary, and that’s what makes her pause.)

Christine doesn’t promise specific actions of love the way Raoul does, but she does promise to share “each day…each night, each morning.”  And she fulfills that by staying with him during the rest of the musical, through their disagreement about announcing their engagement and through her hesitation about singing in Don Juan.  She also continues to confide in Raoul and to trust him unconditionally.  (Even if she disagrees with his methods.)  And she sticks with Raoul on his own merit.  Raoul never has to refer to her past or her memories to call her back to him; and if anything, Christine refers more to the present and the future when she’s with Raoul.  And promising to share a love and life with him is not a promise to be made lightly.  I think it indicates that she loves him, and so she wants to make sure her feelings are reciprocated.

Or, disgruntled Phantom/Christine shippers will say, all this is entirely selfish, and Christine simply wants to be rescued.  Well, she does want to be protected, but notice that she never asked Raoul—or anyone—for protection.  She looked to the Phantom as a guardian, but only because she believed he was a messenger from her father.  No one else has been Christine’s companion or protector, and she’s stood on her own two feet and earned her own living by her own discipline in the opera ballet corps.  And she seemed prepared to continue doing so (starring in Ill Muto, for example, despite the bad experience after her last appearance onstage).  When Raoul offered his protection and hinted at a romantic relationship, Christine accepted—but wisely specified a long-term commitment and also assured herself that Raoul was completely trustworthy and that he truly valued her and needed her.

She also repeatedly refers to both of them sharing a lifetime, and she is willing to follow Raoul wherever he goes: “Say the word, and I will follow you.”  Selfish motives here simply don’t match her actions and character through the entire story.  She’s a loving, compassionate young woman who dearly values her friends and family, and who trust implicitly those she considers friends, but who also is under no more delusions about the reality of the situation.  And since she later hesitated to betray the Phantom, whom she knew was untrustworthy and a confirmed murderer besides, would she really accept Raoul, whom she knew she could trust, with ulterior motives?

Interesting, though that Christine never says directly to Raoul “I love you.”  I think this was done deliberately to keep her motives ambiguous; but based on her actions, I do think she loved Raoul genuinely.

As I did with Raoul’s posts, I shall end Part 1 of this post at the end of Act 1.  Stay tuned for Part 2!

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4 thoughts on “A Few Notes About Christine Daae…

  1. You have a lot of good points here. I especially like what you had to say about Christine’s position when the Phantom first entered her life. When I first watched Phantom I too was unimpressed by Christine. I was thinking, “Why is she so stupid? I would never trust a creep like that!” But it is important to realize the vulnerable position Christine was in. She had just lost her father and this left a genuine, gaping hole in her life. We should never underestimate the power of our longing for relationships and protection. These are real human needs. Great job in addressing that!

    • Christine Eyre says:

      Thank you so much! Yeah, when you think about it, Christine’s thought process becomes more plausible than it first appears–and she definitely grows wiser as the musical goes on (which I’ll address more in Part 2). And I think her central desire in the story is for a companion she trusts: first, she had her father, but lost him. Then she thought the Phantom was a trustworthy guardian–but then found out he wasn’t. Hence her turning to Raoul, someone who, of his own initiative, reestablished their friendship.
      And speaking of Raoul–this literally just occurred to me–nothing is ever said about his family (in the stage show, that is). So…maybe he wants a companion too? He gives no indication of loneliness, yet seems to need to be needed (see All I Ask of You). Which kinda gives all three protagonists the same desire, they just go about getting in very different ways.

        • Christine Eyre says:

          And it’s so powerful that after all the Phantom put her through, Christine recognized that he needed compassion and love–and chose to give it to him.

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