The Phantom of the Opera

by Gaston Leroux
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What is the setting of The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux?

The physical setting of The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux is the Paris Opera House, or the Palais Garnier, in Paris, France. The story takes place in the early 1880s, but Leroux published his book in 1910.

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The Phantom of the Opera is set at the Paris Opera House, also known as Palais Garnier. The real-life opera house was opened in 1875 and was designed by Charles Garnier. It was commissioned by Napoléon III in reaction to an assassination attempt because he wanted to leave his mark on the architecture of Paris. The building itself is opulent, and several key locations are featured in the book, including the stage area and the “lake that exists in the lower cellars of the Opera on the Rue-Scribe side.”

Leroux describes the interior of the opera house as “huge” and “gloomy”. He continues:

A few rays of light, a wan, sinister light, that seemed to have been stolen from an expiring luminary, fell through some opening or other upon an old tower that raised its pasteboard battlements on the stage; everything, in this deceptive light, adopted a fantastic shape...At the top, right on top of the cliff, lost in M. Lenepveu's copper ceiling, figures grinned and grimaced, laughed and jeered at MM. Richard and Moncharmin's distress. And yet these figures were usually very serious. Their names were Isis, Amphitrite, Hebe, Pandora, Psyche, Thetis, Pomona, Daphne, Clytie, Galatea and Arethusa.

The opera house, when empty, is unnerving and sinister. Christine, one of the main characters, describes the passage to the lake beneath the opera house as filled with “darkness”, but she is then blinded by “a dazzling light” on the shore of the lake. The physical setting of the novel helps set the mood for a plot filled with grim and thrilling twists.

The readers learn at the beginning of the novel that “the events do not date more than thirty years back” from when Leroux is writing his story. The work was published serially in 1910, which puts the events of the novel in the early 1880s. This indicates that the events of the novel would have taken place shortly after the Paris Opera House opened.

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The Phantom of the Opera is based on a series of stories and rumors told about the Palais Garnier, an opera house in Paris that remains open today. In the prologue to the novel, Gaston Leroux talks about the research he did to prove that the legend of the Phantom is true in preparation to his writing. Leroux maintained that he believed the phantom was real until his death.

The strange stories that inspired Leroux began during the initial construction of the opera house, following news that it was being built over a subterranean lake. This lake does in fact exist and is even used today. The event where the chandelier comes crashing down is also said to be rooted in truth. The Phantom of the Opera is certainly a novel that is deeply tied to its setting.

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The setting of the Phantom of the Opera is the Paris Opera House, also known as the Palais Garnier. It was an actual theater that opened in 1875 and was commissioned by Napoleon III. The chief architect of the project was Charles Garnier.

In Phantom of the Opera, several areas of the Palais Garnier serve as settings for the plot. One example is the Foyer de la Danse. In the 19th century, subscribers were allowed to mingle in the foyer. The story tells us that subscribers to at least three performances a week were allowed to congregate in the foyer. It is mentioned that the entire back wall of the foyer is covered in glass and that the foyer is lighted by a chandelier with one hundred and seven burners. On the walls are twenty paintings on oval medallions of the most famous dances in the history of the Opera House. There are also four panels with depictions of the "The War Dance, The Rustic Dance, The Dance of Love, and The Bacchic Dance."

Today, only dancers are allowed in the Foyer de la Danse. The story also mentions the singers' foyer, which is adorned by thirty panels that depict artists of great renown. 

One important setting in the story is the lake that is located in the lower cellars of the Opera House. Count Philippe's body is said to have been found on the bank of this lake. Today, however, Pierre Vidal, the curator of the Opera House's library and museum, reports that the lake is actually a stone water tank used for swimming practice by Paris's firefighters. In the story, the Phantom is said to have the run of the lower cellars, passageways, and lake area. He takes Christine on walks along the banks of the lake and once rows her out on the lake in a boat. The narrative also tells us that Erik, the Phantom, lives in a "house" on the lake. So, the fictitious lake in the lower recesses of the Opera House is a major setting in Gaston Leroux's story.

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The Phantom, whose real name is Erik, resides beneath and haunts the Paris Opera House, one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Europe in the late 19th century. The book was originally published in 1910 as a thriller, and has withstood the test of time because of Leroux's ability to weave a character so that the reader is both repulsed by and sympathetic toward the antagonist.

The idea of a love triangle is one of the oldest literary devices, but Leoux paints his characters so beautifully that their story continues to be retold into the 21st century.

Christine Da'ae, the ingenue, is a young dreamer whose imagination is matched only by her father's memory and her love for the opera.

Raoul de Chegny finds himself at the Opera, entranced by the lovely Da'ae, whom he had known as a child.

The Phantom, disfigured from birth, loves Da'ae and comes to her as her "Angel of Music." While he knows she could never love him, he still seeks her heart and hand, destroying anything that may be in his way.

These three characters and the setting of the glamorous and glorious Paris Opera House make this book a magnificent example of the thriller-romance genre.

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