He's here, The Phantom of the Opera... | English
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Maury Yeston: Interview with
the composer of the musical
"PHANTOM" 1991.

  (Maury Yeston)

Maury Yeston.

Role of the "reporter": Anastasia



1. Anastasia: I read that the inspiration to write music for stage came to you after seeing musical My Fair Lady when you were just 10 years old. Were there/are there any other musical works (musical, opera, symphony, song, etc.) that had/has an important influence on you as a composer?

Maury Yeston: Yes, very much so.
The Bethoven Symphonies, Prokofievs Peter and the Wolf, Edith Piaf (heard on the radio in French Canada), Gershwin, The Everly Brothers, The Beatles

First: BEETHOVEN. From the time I was 8 years old. Always Beethoven... not Bach, not Mozart.. Bach for me was always an unapproachable genius. Mozart.. even beyond that. Mozart was like a rainbow or a flower -- a miracle that no human being could create.
But, with Beethoven, I always felt and understood, even as a child, that this music contained within itself the struggle of its composer to force it into existence. In Beethoven I discovered a human being... behind the music... a human being I could never hope to equal or even come close to, but a human being who would always inspire me to try.
Beethoven's music is always about something... there is a subject in it always: some aspect of life, or the struggle for life.
Others, of course, have influenced and inspired me -- the great American songwriters, the Beatles, Noel Coward, William Walton, Aaron Copeland.... but none have ever overwhelmed me throughout my life as has Beethoven.

I began playing piano at age 5, composing at age 6, and I have been writing songs since age 7. I have always loved the interplay of words and music and understood the intricate play and joy of musical rhyme interacting with word-rhyme and rhythm. When I saw "My Fair Lady" I felt I truly wanted to write shows. At age 11 started playing thru a very large collection of American songs and learned almost a thousand of the great songs from the golden age.. and also Jazz Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie.


2. Anastasia: What were your dreams about your future activities and career, before you decided to become a composer?

Maury Yeston: When I was very young I though I might be the President, or an Astronaut. But really, it was always writing music and words for me, with no serious second choice. The question was always, however, what kind of music?

As I grew and developed, I branched out into all forms of composition. At Yale, I wrote my big cello concerto as a senior essay - won the Friends of Music Prize... won the scholarship to Cambridge for 2 years. That was a godsend. The 2 years in England enabled me to focus on what I truly loved -- melody -- and to understand that devoting a life to melody is as great a life-project as devoting a life to creating symphonies -- with Schubert as much a hero to me as Kern, Gershwin or Berlin. To float the voice, to find a way to soar vocally, to shape the emotions of the listener, to delight, to amuse.. to create dance -- melody does all these things,.,, and carries with it a whole other possibility of self-expression : words, which have their own craft and careful science of creation. Not the words of an opera libretto or poetry.. but lyrics, which are designed to be heard only once, and to be completely understood the moment they are heard. This is the essence of musical theater -- the fact that words sung are meant to be understood as people's thoughts, or as people speaking passionately.
Songwriting is a medium in which to paint in music... just as watercolor, or still life, or oils or acrylics are mediums of painting.
Simply put, I chose song to be the medium I would explore as a lifetime project.


3. Anastasia: You composed scores to several quite different musicals. Which score do you like most and which of your musicals is your favourite one?

Maury Yeston: I think my first love will always be NINE -- not only because it brings me back to my young and passionate days of making discoveries about how to write, but also because I love the film it is based on, and the content contains and is influenced by my late-teen summers, traveling thru europe and falling in love with its music and cultures -- all of which is reflected in the score., NINE also contains the complete range of my musical world, from classical and contrapuntal influences like the opera or the WOMEN'S OVERTURE, throu French music hall (FOLIES), Jazz (Vatican), and art-song (UNUSUAL WAY).
My next Bway show will be DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY -- also set in Italy, this time in 1922.. and in a way, it is a return to the Italian world that seems to inspire me so much.

4. Anastasia:
Why did you decide to write Phantom? What did attract you in the story of Phantom?

Maury Yeston: I decided to write Phantom around 1983, because a director named Geoffrey Holder asked me to write it. This was long before Andrew Lloyd Webers project began. At first I rejected the idea as a silly movie. But then I realized, if I could change the story so that the Phantom was disfigured from his very birth, then I would have a story of a man who is ugly on the outside, but beautiful on the inside, and the beauty is the music he hears growing up beneath the opera. So he becomes like Quasimodo or the Elephant Man a pathetic but compelling character.


5. Anastasia: Did you have any movie on this subject in mind when you were working on the score to Phantom (e.g., classical black and white movie with Lon Chaney) or was it only Lerouxs original novel that was the main inspiration? Or was Mr. Kopits play the main moving force behind the whole thing?

Maury Yeston: None of the above. Actually, my work was based on my own ideas. None of the movies made any sense to me, and only when I realized I could define the character my own way did the door become wide open for me and Arthur to create our story.


6. Anastasia: How did the work on Phantom go? Did you discuss every step with Mr. Kopit or did you work separately?

Maury Yeston: Arthur and I discussed everything together: the secret identity of the Phantoms mother and father, the importance that Christine is first discovered in the light of a sunny day in the Bois de Boulogne etc.


7. Anastasia: Is there any particular musical influence (from operas or classical music) on your score to Phantom? Any hidden references?

Maury Yeston: Yes. I was very much influence by French music-hall, French folk-music, French pre-Renaissance music and the French love for counterpoint. That is why there is a fugue in Act One, a feeling of Can-Can in the Opening, an influence of French operetta in The Bistro.


8. Anastasia: Who is your favourite character from Phantom and why?

Maury Yeston: I love Christine very much, she is Cinderella. But my absolute favorite character is the Phantoms father. He has been caring for his son, masquerading as his uncle, living with the guilt of the Phantoms birth, for his whole life. And it is wonderful thing to see the whole audience begin to cry in Act Two, when father and son are reunited.


9. Anastasia: What is your favourite musical piece/song from the musical Phantom and what is your favourite scene from it?

Maury Yeston: I have two favorites: (YOU ARE MUSIC), which is a wonderful and strange musical moment in which Eric and Christine fall in love within music and a music lesson. And the second choice would be YOU ARE MY OWN, a duet when father and son come together again.


10. Anastasia: Phantom has been produced in several countries. What is your attitude to all these foreign productions? Have you seen any of them? How do you feel, for example, about Japanese Takarazuka productions with all-female casts, staged in 2004 and in 2006?

Maury Yeston: There have been over a thousand productions. I love all the ones I have seen. The all-female version in Japan is quite unusual, but also quite entertaining. They have just now done a male/female version in Tokyo quite successfully. I very much enjoy being surprised by how other people interpret my work in unexpected ways.


11. Anastasia: Have you seen TV miniseries The Phantom of the Opera 1990, based on Mr. Kopits play, with Charles Dance, Teri Polo and Burt Lancaster? What do you think of it? What do you think of Charles Dances performance?

Maury Yeston: Yes. This is actually close to the story Arthur and I wrote. And this miniseries is written by Arthur. I enjoyed Charles Dances performance.


12. Anastasia: What is your attitude to other two famous Phantom musicals: the one by Ken Hill and the other by Andrew Lloyd Webber? Have you seen them? Have you seen the movie version of Webbers Phantom and if you have, what do you think of it?

Maury Yeston: I have actually never seen either of them. I have heard some of the music from Andrews show, and I admire his work very much.


13. Anastasia: In your opinion who is the best musical (or, maybe, non-musical) performer ever? And who is the best musical performer ever to perform your work?

Maury Yeston: Best musical performer ever would have to be Louis Armstrong. Second place goes to Fred Astaire. Third place, Ella Fitzgerald.

Best musical performer for my work would probably be Barbra Streisand. Although I love Placido Dominigo, and Gloria Estefan who also have sung my work.


14. Anastasia: As Im Russian, I cannot but ask: do you have any favourite Russian composers or favourite piece of music?

Maury Yeston: The Russians have influenced me greatly. Moussorgsky especially with his magnificent songs and piano music, Stravinsky, Rimsky, Borodin, Glinka they have all had a great effect on me, in addition to Prokofiev whom I already mentioned especially his film score to Alexander Nevsky.


15. Anastasia: Besides music, I would like to know: what are your favourite novels or, perhaps, poems?

Maury Yeston: This is an easy question. My two favorite novels are : 1)War and Peace, and 2) War and Peace. After these I love the works of Edith Wharton, Moby Dick, Jane Austen. I began reading poetry in foreign languages when I was very young. My English favorites are Hart Crane, Auden, James Joyce, Shakespeare. French are Rimbaud, Baudelaire, German are Goethe, Paul Celan, Brecht, Spanish are Lorca and especially Neruda. I love the Russians, but especially Mayakovsky. I was quite taken when I was young by Yevtushenko and Voznesenski.


16. Anastasia: And what about movies? What kind of movies do you prefer?

Maury Yeston: I love what are called art movies, Fellini, Truffaut, Wajda, Satyajit Ray, Kurosawa.


17. Anastasia: Are you working currently on any new musical? What are your creative plans and ideas for the future?

Maury Yeston: Yes. Death Takes A Holiday is my next show, based on a play by Alberto Cassella. After that, I am working on a show based on Hans Christian Anderson, and I am exploring one about Edgar Allen Poe.


Anastasia: Thank you very much, Mr. Yeston!




April 11th of 2008.

This interview is published with permission of Mister Maury Yeston!
Copying or reproduction of the interview or one of its fragments is FORBIDDEN!!! Please, respect the copyright!
I'd like to thank Mr. Jerrold L. Morgulas, esq. for the help in organization of this interview!
All rights reserved.


"PHANTOM", 1991.

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