Is ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ Based on a True Story?

The Phantom of the Opera began as a novel by Gaston Leroux. In the years since the book’s publication, it’s been adapted into numerous films as well as a Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Many of the most famous musicals, from The Sound of Music to Hamilton take some inspiration from historical events. This raises an interesting question: Is The Phantom of the Opera based on a true story?

The Phantom of the Opera with Christine Daaé
The Phantom of the Opera and Christine Daaé | Simon Fergusson/Getty Images

That famous falling chandelier

The story of Erik and Christine Daaé is fictitious. However, Mental Floss reports parts of The Phantom of the Opera are based on historical events. For example, one of the more famous scenes in Lloyd Webber’s version of the story is the sequence where the chandelier falls. This was inspired by an actual incident from 1896.

That year, a counterweight used to hold up a chandelier fell through the roof of the Palais Garnier, the most famous opera house in Paris. Sadly, the counterweight killed someone when it fell.

Is the Phantom’s lake based in fact?

“The Phantom of the Opera”

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Another one of the many memorable moments from The Phantom of the Opera is loosely based in fact. In the book and many of its adaptations, the Phantom lives by a lake underneath the Palais Garnier. This tidbit was inspired by water beneath the Palais Garnier. When workers broke ground for the opera house in 1861, there was an enormous swell of water. The workers put the water into a large tank and it remains there to this day — though, sadly, it’s not inhabited by any phantoms.

The rumor that inspired ‘The Phantom of the Opera’

In addition, the book Paris says the basic idea for the novel was taken from an actual rumor that swirled around the Palais Garnier during Leroux’s time. The rumor claimed a deformed man lived beneath the opera house and was committing all sorts of crimes. This rumor became the basis for the character of the Phantom.

The odd relationship between the Phantom and facts

Christine Daaé touching the suit of the Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom of the Opera and Christine Daaé | Walter McBride/Getty Images

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While there are grains of historical truth contained within the novel, Leroux exaggerates how true the story is. The book frames the tale of the Phantom as historical fact. Because of this framing, The Phantom of the Opera is a precursor to many later works of horror fiction. In the 1970s, horror films like The Last House on the Left falsely proclaimed to be based on true stories. More recently, found footage movies try to trick audiences into thinking they are recordings of actual events. These films are indebted to The Phantom of the Opera.

Other famous horror stories like Dracula and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre take some inspiration from true stories. The basis of these tales in fact — however minor — seems to be well-known among horror fans. The grains of truth in The Phantom of the Opera seem to remain less well-known — and deserve to gain more attention.

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