The song is performed in Act I after the song "Angel of Music" (The Mirror) and before "The Music of the Night" (and is reprised in Act Two at the end of the song "Notes/Twisted Every Way"). It takes place as the Phantom escorts Christine by boat to his lair beneath the Opera Garnier. It is sung as a duet by Christine and the Phantom. At the end of the song, Christine sings her highest note in the show, an E6. In different shows, Sarah Brightman sings this song in different duets with other performers, Antonio Banderas, Chris Thompson, Alessandro Safina, Mario Frangoulis, Colm Wilkinson, Anthony Warlow, John Owen-Jones, Peter Jöback and Erkan Aki.
What makes this particular song unique within the musical is its unusual hard rock style, since most of the songs in the musical have a more operatic style. Early in the musical's production, Andrew Lloyd Webber met Jim Steinman, who described "The Phantom of the Opera" as a rock song invading an opera house. This is what inspired the hard rock style of the song, which influenced all of the rock-based instruments in the song including drums and electric guitar.
"The Phantom of the Opera" song was also specially arranged by the show's original orchestrator, David Cullen, for a virtuoso cello version for cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, Andrew's brother, for the CD Lloyd Webber Plays Lloyd Webber.
Ray Repp sued Andrew Lloyd Webber over the main melody of Phantom, claiming that it was based on his folk song "Till You" which he recorded in 1978. Webber won the case however, with the counter-claim that the section of "Phantom" in question was actually based on Webber's "Close Every Door", which was written before Till You.
In addition, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd had asserted that Andrew Lloyd Webber had plagiarised the intro section from the Pink Floyd song "Echoes", which largely resembles it, although he decided against filing a lawsuit.
"Yeah, the beginning of that bloody Phantom song is from Echoes. *DAAAA-da-da-da-da-da* [sic]. I couldn't believe it when I heard it. It's the same time signature – it's 12/8 – and it's the same structure and it's the same notes and it's the same everything. It probably is actionable. It really is! But I think that life's too long to bother with suing Andrew fucking Lloyd Webber."
In January 1986, the original version of "The Phantom of the Opera" was released as a single to promote the upcoming musical of the same name. The duet was performed by Sarah Brightman and Steve Harley. The song became a Top 10 hit in the UK, peaking at #7, and remaining within the Top 100 for ten weeks.
In 1984, Andrew Lloyd Webber and producer Cameron Mackintosh began working on the Phantom of the Opera musical. Sarah Brightman, whom Webber married in 1984, was set to play the heroine Christine. As development of the musical continued, Webber decided that releasing the title track as a pop single would be a good way of promoting the upcoming musical, and to "test the water" in terms of public reception. He stressed that he wanted the song to have a rock 'n' roll sound, to which producer Mike Batt added an "electro-pop beat and heavy metal guitars".
Having worked together on the 1983 single "Ballerina (Prima Donna)", Batt phoned Steve Harley with the offer of singing the role of the Phantom on the track, and duly suggested Harley to Webber. Batt believed Harley's voice was just right for the song. Although he was currently working on his own solo album, having signed a new contract with Mickie Most's label RAK, Harley "jumped at the chance" to record the song.
Harley had to audition for the recording of the song at Webber's home. Speaking to Number One magazine's Debbi Voller in February 1986, Harley revealed: "I don't mean to boast but after only singing one verse he told me I'd got the job!" He also commented to the Daily Star at the time: "A friend said he was going to tell Andrew that my voice was just right for the song. I thought he was joking. But I really enjoyed working with Andrew. I'd love to play the Phantom when he puts the show on stage."
Speaking of the recording of the song, Harley said: "I felt a bit like a fish out of water. Sarah would record her part perfectly then leave, and I'd have to stay until I hit those notes. It really stretched me." In the 2005 Behind the Mask documentary, Harley recalled: "I'd never done a duet. I knew Sarah could sing with an angelic soprano. I was quite happy to give it a crack, as it were."
The single was released in January 1986, and reached #7 in the UK in early February. At the time of its success, the UK press reported the rumour that Brightman had not wanted to work with Harley due to a negative review he gave on radio years before of one of her previous records. In the 23 March 1986 issue of the Mail on Sunday's You magazine, Brightman commented: "That was just a joke. I was very pleased to work with him. Anyway, I didn't say that. I don't bear grudges."
Despite the success of the single, the masked nature of the Phantom character, (particularly in the music video), meant that Harley did not gain instant recognition for his role. He commented to the Daily Star in February 1986: "It's crazy. Here I am back in the charts and not even my nearest and dearest know it's me. But, in a way, I like my face not being seen. It's great to have fame and anonymity at the same time."
Being the prime candidate for the role of the Phantom in the musical, Harley ended up auditioning in front of the creative team, and was given the role the following day. He then spent five months rehearsing, including working with producer Hal Prince. He also recorded other tracks from the musical including "Music of the Night" and "All I Ask of You". He was surprised to find he was later replaced by Michael Crawford. For Behind the Mask, Cameron Mackintosh said: "He wasn't that experienced as an actor. It became obvious to me, and then I discussed it with Hal and Andrew, who also came to the same conclusion that this was a lovely impulse but not the right decision for the show."
Harley later recalled: "What happened is a mystery to me. There was no hint that they were unhappy with me, or that they were seeing anyone behind my back." Harley received £20,000 compensation after he was removed from the musical, but was given no explanation. It has been suggested that due to suffering from polio as a child, there were doubts as to whether Harley could effectively cope with the part.
The single was released by Polydor Records on 7" and 12" vinyl, as well as on CD in Japan. The single was released in the UK, Ireland, America, Canada, Australia, Japan and across Europe including Germany, France, Portugal and Spain. In the UK, a limited edition 7" release was issued in addition to the standard one. This limited edition version featured a luminous disc.
The B-Side "Overture - The Phantom of the Opera" is a two-minute instrumental version of the A-Side. It was written and produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber. On the American 7" vinyl release, the B-Side was re-titled "The Phantom of the Opera (Instrumental)". The graphic artwork and sleeve design for all versions of the single was created by Dewynters Ltd, London.
On the back sleeve of the release, a short passage reads:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, On this recording I have required that Sarah Brightman and Steve Harley perform the theme from the forthcoming musical, which I have instructed Andrew Lloyd Webber to write around my legend 'The Phantom of the Opera.' Your Obedient Servant, The Phantom".
The 12" version of the single features a seven-minute extended remix of the song, as well as the standard version. Following the original mini CD release of the single in Japan, it was re-issued there again in 1992 on the same format.
Brightman and Harley's version of the song would later appear on the 1994 compilation The Very Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber, as well as another Webber compilation titled Gold - The Definitive Hit Singles Collection, released in 2001.
Directed by Ken Russell, the music video for the single also acted as promotion for the upcoming musical. After the chart success of the single, Webber wanted to further promote the musical, and the resultant video took a week to shoot. In his book Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell and His Films, author Joseph Lanza noted that the video: "packs in the gist of the musical's message and story in just over four minutes." In his interview with Number One magazine, Harley spoke of Russell, describing him as "terribly friendly, though I must admit his work does give the impression that he lives on another planet!"
The video starts with Brightman as Christine running to her dressing room. On her way there, Raoul gives her a purple flower bouquet, which she takes with her. In her dressing room, she finds a gift box from the Phantom (portrayed by Harley). She opens it and puts the veil inside on her head. Then, she enters the mirror, arriving in the Phantom's lair, with the Phantom standing across the other side of a lake. Christine crosses the lake on a boat the moves by itself. The closing segment features Christine performing on stage in front of an audience including Raoul. The Phantom, secretly spectating, cuts a rope backstage which causes the chandelier to crash on top of Raoul. The video ends with Christine screaming before blood red drips over and envelops the screen.
In the Behind the Mask documentary, Richard Stilgoe described the video as "wonderful, as over-the-top as you can get". Cameron Mackinstosh said: "Ken Russell came up with the most brilliant, outrageous video. It's fantastic fun, and completely over-the-top, which of course Andrew and I loved."7" Single
7" Single (US release)
- "The Phantom of the Opera" - 4:40
- "Overture - The Phantom of the Opera" - 2:10
- "The Phantom of the Opera" - 4:40
- "The Phantom of the Opera (Instrumental)" - 2:10
12" Single (Canadian promo)
- "The Phantom of the Opera (Extended Version)" - 7:09
- "The Phantom of the Opera" - 4:40
- "Overture - The Phantom of the Opera" - 2:10
CD Single (Japanese release)
- "The Phantom of the Opera (Edited Version)" - 3:44
- "The Phantom of the Opera" - 4:39
- "The Phantom of the Opera" - 4:44
- "Overture - The Phantom of the Opera" - 2:13
The British guitarist; Hank Marvin did an instrumental version of the song on his 1997 album Hank Plays the Music of Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The song "The Phantom of the Opera" was covered in 1998 by Charlotte Church and Peter Karrie.
It was also covered in 2002 by the Finnish symphonic power metal quintet Nightwish and released on the album Century Child. This particular version of the song, with Tarja Turunen (soprano) singing Christine's part and Marco Hietala (baritone/tenor) singing the part of The Phantom, is set in a different register (one whole tone below) to the original version written by Andrew Lloyd Webber. On the recorded version, the female vocalisation at the end of the song is quite different from the original, however, when the song is performed live, the vocalisation is the same, although with a slightly different key progression. Tarja Turunen hits E6 in live at the end of the song. She also sings it in her solo concerts. There is also another gothic metal version released in 1999 by Austrian band Dreams of Sanity (Masquerade album). Tarja also performed the song live in Rock in Rio 2011, along with Brazilian power metal band Angra. Japanese Symphonic Metal band Liv Moon have also covererd the song live, as a duet between lead singer Akane Liv and guitarist Takayoshi Ohmura.
The song was also covered by Israeli countertenor David D'Or, backed by the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, on David D’Or & the Philharmonic; Live Concert, released on 1 April 2003.
Power metal band HolyHell also covered the song, with Eric Adams of Manowar making a guest appearance singing the part of The Phantom.
The song was also covered by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes on their show-tune album, Are A Drag. Also, in Rufus Wainwright's song "Between My Legs", from the album Release the Stars, the last 30 seconds plays the main theme from this song. The song was also covered by X Factor finalist, Rhydian Roberts, for which Lord Lloyd Webber wrote a male solo version specially for the artist.
The beginning melody for this song was also used in the Alice Cooper concert DVD Live in Montreux before the song "Department of Youth".
In about 2001, the song was covered by Sophie Viskich and Kris Phillips live in Beijing, China.
Richard Clayderman has also arranged a piano-orchestral version of the song; originally found in his album The Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
In 2011, Hawaiian-American singer Nicole Scherzinger sang this song at the annual Royal Variety Performance in the United Kingdom, which is often attended by Queen Elizabeth II but was attended by her daughter Princess Anne this year. Nicole Scherzinger was accompanied by four male "Phantoms" (John Owen-Jones, Ramin Karimloo, Simon Bowman and Earl Carpenter) for the performance, which was performed to make the 25th anniversary of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 musical.
This is used as Kyla Ross' floor music. She was part of the gold winning gymnastics team at the 2012 Olympics. It is also covered by Vocaloid character Hatsune Miku portraying as Christine.
Violinist Lindsey Stirling did an accompanied instrumental version of the song on her Phantom of the Opera single in 2012.