Review: Phantom Of The Opera grows in a new light at Sydney Opera House

Over three decades Phantom of the Opera has been solidified as a paradigm-shifting theatre production without equal. I know many people who don’t care for the theatre who would relish in every single second of any iteration of this story, no matter the time, setting or season. And those who do have a particular love for stage shows of this grand scale – cat nip. Utter those four words – Phantom of the Opera – and even the most cynical and exhausted of critics would perk up immediately.

So does history’s most beloved musical still have something new to offer?

After an open-air version rocked Sydney as Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, Phantom of the Opera has now found its way into the iconic bowels of the Sydney Opera House for a season that’ll play until October 16. That’s relatively short, but just enough time to soak up the greatest musical of all time in what is one of the world’s most appropriate venues.

The Sydney Opera House’s Joan Sutherland Theatre is actually quite perfect for the productions. It’s large and has a sense of occasion more so than the quaint Playhouse, but is much more intimate than something like the Concert Hall. And it’s that happy medium that greatly elevates the show, which was originally written by Charles Hart with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Theatergoers are intimately familiar with the story by now. Soprano Christine Daae is romanticised as the muse and singular love of the Phantom – a mysterious, masked musical genius who must make peace with her feelings for another. The resonate tale has been played out in many iterations in all facets of life, pop culture and otherwise. And it’s the simplicity in this that is the core of why Phantom of the Opera always strikes a chord, and not just with overt romantics.

In this version, Josh Piterman sinks into the role of the Phantom with a virtuoso performance that brings depth to the disaster. And while Blake Bowden as Raoul and Amy Manford (also Bridget Costello, depending on the night) as Christine have their genuine moments of brilliance in their respective roles, the production really belongs to Piterman who clearly gives his all and sets out to lift the drama to its zenith.

Visually, it’s a stunning production. Opera Australia and Cameron Mackintosh clearly acknowledge the fatigue risked when one brings such an iconic musical to life, boldly presenting something that brings a new angle to the story. And that’s elevated through overtly dramatic and lavish design, seen in everything from the staging and ostentatious score to the beautifully designed costumes that are used to great effect on everyone from the leads to the ballet chorus.

There are some important distinctions to be made, departing from the original story at times and trying to tell the tale through a different, slightly more realistic and modern lens. Less romanticised and archaic and more relevant the current relationship dynamics. Although, importantly, that’s not to say this Phantom of the Opera is made with the TikTok-generation in mind. It’s far more sophisticated.

Many have tried this before and many have come up short in their attempt to offer something new. Opera Australia has been careful to avoid such pitfalls, taking the nuanced approach and making sure those changes are well-connected to the original story. Such a dance of detail is where the art really lies, and the skilled writers of this production deserve to take a bow.

Pitterman is given a more vulnerable, sympathetic Phantom to chew through and he is all the more better for it. You don’t have much time to go and see it so if revisiting the Phantom of the Opera with a fascinating new version sounds like something for you then make your booking now.

Phantom of the Opera plays at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House through to October 16. It will then move on to Melbourne.


The writer was a guest of Opera Australia.

Feature image: Sydney Opera House / Daniel Boud.

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.