By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter
“She seemed to be listening… Raoul also listened… Whence came that strange sound, that distant rhythm?… And a faint singing seemed to issue from the walls… he heard a voice, a very beautiful, very soft, very captivating voice… but for all its softness it had remained a male voice… The voice came nearer and nearer… and now the voice was in the room, in front of Christine. ‘Here I am, Erik,’ she said. ‘I am ready. But you are late.’” — The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (1909)
FROM the opposite end of the foyer, you could hear Meghan Picerno giggle as she approached our station at the foyer at the Theatre at Solaire last Tuesday afternoon for a short interview before that evening’s show. Like the rest of the cast members of The Phantom of the Opera whom we met, Ms. Picerno — who plays the lead Christine Daae — talked about the preparations they did for the show and why the musical continues to resonate with audiences 33 years since its premiere in 1986.
And she also discussed what is was like to play the same character twice in two different musicals.
And we discussed corsets.
While it has been 33 years since The Phantom’s world premiere, it has been seven years since the seven-time Tony and four-time Olivier award-winning musical was performed last in Manila. For the 2019 World Tour — which opened officially here last week at The Theatre at Solaire — the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical has come with 130 cast, crew, and orchestra members and more than 230 costumes by the late international designer Maria Bjornson.
Ms. Picerno said that playing Christine with the North American cast of the sequel to Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies (also composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber), helped her craft the role for the younger Christine — the soprano who becomes the object of fascination and the protege of the Phantom of the Paris opera house — that she now plays.
“I’ve been living her future for the last year and a half. And I had, as a performer, I created a backstory [for the character]. And now I am living the beginning of it all,” Ms. Picerno said.
“I do though, have to remember that the time that Phantom of the Opera was written, Love Never Dies was not [yet created]. So then, I have to separate the two because, my future self Christine actually can’t influence the young Christine, because she wouldn’t know that that’s where she ends up,” she said.
Jonathan Roxmouth is no stranger to The Phantom either as this is his second time to play the role of the opera ghost — he was also the Phantom in the 2012 touring production that performed in Manila. He said he has made no drastic changes to his performance since his first run as the Phantom seven years ago.
“Instincts never change. I think delivery changes every now and again. I think my voice has changed a little. My confidence in the role is certainly not what it was back then,” Mr. Roxmouth told the press.
“I’m not a fan of change for change’s sake. It’s very dangerous, because I like to trust that what I found back then still rings true. Certain things may have changed here and there… but the rest of it, it’s the same effect,” he added.
The story of romance and unrequited love continues to resonate with audiences.
“I think the one that bridges things is the romance. Some people get swept away with these gorgeous melodies and it’s a very romantic show,” said Matt Leisy who plays Raoul, who competes with the Phantom for Christine’s heart.
“I think people relate to the Phantom as well because he’s… a tortured soul who was not quite understood. He’s the one who doesn’t get the girl and is lonely, and I think I people can relate to that,” said Mr. Leisy.
Mr. Roxmouth has observed that the Filipino audience connects with his character during shows.
“There’s a respect for the arts… Even during the show, you could you could feel the audience is with you… and at the end of ‘Music of the Night,’ you can hear them go [*exhales*] with you. And that’s amazing because this, this role particularly connects with people in a way that other roles haven’t.
“To come out on the boat [during the scene in the underground lake] and look out at the audience in the theater — you can feel that everybody’s going, ‘Let’s do this together.’ There’s a partnership. They’re not just watching, they’re also not distracted, they are with you. That hardly happens. I remember it being the case in the CCP [Cultural Center of the Philippines} in 2012 and I’m seeing it again here. It’s, it’s quite special.”
Before our turn with the performers was up, this writer grabbed the opportunity to ask Ms. Picerno a nagging question — How did female singers back in the day sing opera while wearing corsets?
“Back in that time, true corsets would have either had whalebone or metal [to keep them stiff]. I really cannot imagine what that would be like to sing in [them]. That being said, I actually like being in corsets to sing,” Ms. Picerno told members of the press, and went on to explain that she uses the Garcia method (named after Spanish singer Manuel Garcia) where a singer practices a controlled breathing approach called apoggio (Italian for “to lean”).
“My rib cage expands kind of like a puffer fish and when you have of corset on you can lean against it. It’s so helpful because you’re fully supported when you sing,” she said.
And with that she, along with the other actors, returned to the theater to prepare for the show that evening. Which in her case means wearing a corset.
The Phantom of the Opera has performances until April 7 at The Theatre at Solaire. For tickets and schedules, contact TicketWorld at (891-9999, www.ticketworld.com.ph.)