When I was fourteen, my youngest sibling was born. In the same year, I became a chicken farmer; I read all the books Conan Doyle wrote about Sherlock Holmes; I made homemade doughnuts for the first time; and I discovered the Phantom of the Opera.
My first introduction to this story was through English composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1980's musical masterpiece. However, being a
nerd book lover, the original book by Gaston Leroux quickly made its way into my possession, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was a strangely pleasant lack of fluidity in the English translation of the original French; and the sad, tragic romance, so similar to other well-loved Gothic novels, as well as a spell-binding introduction into the magical realm of the late-19th-century Paris Opera House all combined to create an intriguing world so different from the practical reality of my own.
My best friend, Hannah, was similarly appreciative of the Phantom. Never capable of simply enjoying a good story, we immediately began optimistic plans for our own production of Phantom of the Opera. These plans joined a queue that included a Jane Eyre musical and an Ivanhoe play, if I remember correctly. There might have been more. We were very ambitious. Hannah worked on musical scores and librettos while I drew costumes and thought about sewing, makeup, and materials. I played the piano and Hannah sang; she played the piano and I sang... or at least tried to.
But time crept by quickly, and we were so busy. Hannah had voice lessons; I went to art classes. We both learned French and, for a few months, Italian. I don't know when we passed the day that marked us out as being too grown-up to have so many never-to-be-carried-out ideas, but it must have come and gone without us knowing. Before long, I was in Scotland at Bible college, and Hannah was beginning university studies. My college days started me down a path that would end up in my immigration to the UK. Hannah's musical studies were more apropos to our original theatrical plans and took her into the world of opera.
And years passed.
But how suddenly they fell away and were gone in an instant.
Yesterday, I found myself sitting with two friends [ironically, both named Hannah] in the Royal Albert Hall, for a twenty-fifth anniversary performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom musical.
It was the third time I've seen it on stage, and I can't qualify it as being the best rendition.
But everything seemed to come together to make it the best experience: timing, a long-loved story, friends' names, music, merging into a beautiful clash of sound and light and memories.
We sat in Hyde Park afterwards, in the golden afternoon sunshine of our waning Indian summer, and basked in the afterglow of our adventure.
Coo was napping in a state of total exhaustion. She had spent three hours playing in Hyde Park with a very patient [and equally exhausted] Daddy.