The Phantom of The Opera is a book written by French journalist and opera critic Gaston Leroux, which was published in 1910. The stage adaption by Andrew Lloyd Webber made the story become immensely popular. The show has been running on London's West End for almost 30 and on Broadway for 27 subsequent years, which makes it the longest running show on Broadway and the second-longest on West End.
Interestingly, for some reason, many people tend to believe that ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ is a true story. How come that this work of art is subject to so many rumors, and why are people so keen to find proof for the reality of this piece of fiction?
One reason for this would be the setting. The Opéra Garnier is a real, operating theatre in the heart of Paris, and belongs to the city's main attractions. Over 800,000 visitors and spectators come to the Opéra every year. Little of them know, however, that there really is water underneath the building. When Charles Garnier, the architect of the opera house, was digging the foundation for the building, he was surprised by an underground stream. Pumping nor blocking the water did help: the water kept on coming. Garnier had two choices: either he would build his Opera someplace else, or he would continue building in spite of the water. He chose the latter. It isn’t the beautiful lake as depicted in the book, the stage version and the movies. It is not lighted by candles, and one cannot ride a gondola. Instead, the water is being held in a rather unromantic, enormous cistern, in which the Parisian fire department practices diving exercises from time to time. Though it is no ghost, there is a living creature down there: a white catfish that is fed by the opera staff. So far we have found, as it seems, a ‘Pet of the Opera’.
Besides the water, at least one of the events in the novel is real, too. In 1896, the great chandelier indeed fell from the roof into the audience and this accident indeed killed a certain Madame Chomette, a concierge – just like in Leroux’ novel. Since Leroux was a journalist, he must have been aware of this accident, and wove the event into his story. One has to admit that the sudden fall of a chandelier during a performance is spooky and can easily lead to rumors.
In the beginning of the 17th century, Amsterdam was a fast growing town. Even if we know the Dutch capital as a city full of water today, it was surrounded by even more water back then. Amsterdam is built on moorland; the country around it naturally is full of peat bogs, lakes and little streams. But as the town was expanding, more land was necessary to provide food for all its inhabitants. And so a couple of Amsterdam merchants decided on draining a lake called De Beemster and creating more fertile soil. This comprehensive project - building a 38 kilometer long dike around the lake, digging a canal on the outside of that dike and erecting windmills that would pump the water from the lake – created lots of work places and thus was extremely lucrative for the city.
It took no more than five years until the lake was drained: a polder was created. Ditches were dug, roads were built – with the drainage of De Beemster, the creation of the typical Dutch polder scenery had begun.