There doesn't seem to be any reason given for the Phantom's horrible face, which is described as a “noseless, lipless, sunken-eyed face which resembles a skull dried up by the centuries, covered in yellowed dead flesh.” (That's how Wikipedia puts it, anyway. I'm not sure if that's a direct quotation from the book or not.) It is simply the way he was born, but there's no explanation for such a defect. I've wasted a lot of time trying to find out more about his parentage, but unless I want to read the entire Leroux novel plus the 1990 novel Phantom by Sharon Kay, I guess I'm going to have to let the matter drop.
Be that as it may, there are a couple of historical facts that seem to have inspired Leroux. First, there is really a “lake” (actually a reservoir or cistern) underneath the Paris Opera House, as well as tunnels, arches, passages, etc., that could give rise to the idea that someone lived down there. In reality, the Opera House was built on very marshy, swampy ground, and the architects had to deal with all that water. In the end, all the underground structures were for that purpose. The fall of the huge chandelier, or at least its equally huge counterweight, also really happened, although not during a performance, and a workman was killed. And there was the usual legend, common in big buildings that have lots of weird-but-normal creaks and groans, that the place was haunted.
So that pretty much accounts for the rise of the creepy stories surrounding the Opera House. Leroux took those and wove them together into his novel, which was first serialized in 1909 and then published as a stand-alone book in 1910. The story uses the Opera House legends as a base and then develops it along the same lines as the classic fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast” (which ends happily for both girl and monster) and Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame (which doesn't). Most discussions of Leroux's novel also cite a not-very-well-known-today 1894 work titled Trilby by George du Maurier, in which a young tone-deaf girl, Trilby, is hypnotized by a rogue named Svengali and enabled to sing beautifully. He keeps her under his spell and she becomes a great singer, La Svengali. But her career ends when Svengali is stricken with a heart attack during a performance and can't produce the spell; she is hooted off the stage. The novel was the most popular book of its time and was made into an extremely successful play. Today it's pretty much forgotten, but two cultural references remain. We still refer to an older man who has great influence over a younger woman, especially in her career, as a “Svengali.” And the name of the girl, Trilby, got transferred to a type of hat worn by the actress in the famous play. Leroux took the idea of the Phantom's giving Christine singing lessons but left out the tone-deaf part.
Leroux's work has been completely overshadowed by the many adaptations that have been made of it over the years. Until Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, the most famous of those remakes was the 1925 silent film starring Lon Chaney. To quote Wikipedia again, “The movie remains most famous for Chaney's ghastly, self-devised make-up, which was kept a studio secret until the film's premiere.” Dialogue and sound effects were later added to the film. I had thought that this movie was the inspiration for Webber's musical, but according to the official website that's not the case. In 1984 Webber came across a review of a stage adaptation of Phantom and contacted the director about the possibility of turning it into a musical. The next year Webber was in New York and discovered a copy of the original novel in a second-hand bookstore, buying it for a dollar, and was completely entranced. Well, it could have happened that way!
Our selection, “Masquerade,” takes place within the context of a masked ball/gala at the Opera House. If you're alert you'll notice the line “Six months of relief, of delight, of Elysian peace,” which refers to the length of time elapsed since the Phantom's last appearance. He will show up at the end of this number, an event that is hinted at in our selection's final “Ah!”