2016 is a Big Year for Phantom of the Opera

As I mentioned in my previous post, 2016 is the 30th anniversary of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, perhaps one of the best-known adaptations of the story of the Opera Ghost. But did you know that another PotO adaptation celebrates its anniversary in 2016? That distinction belongs to Das Phantom der Oper, a silent German adaptation dating from 1916. It was the first and, at 100 years old, the oldest adaptation of Phantom–and it also no longer exists, being destroyed in a fire long ago. What little we know about it comes from newspaper articles that date from its 1916 debut (you can view those articles here, and my greatest thanks to the enterprising souls who uncovered the information), but it appears to have followed the story just as closely, if not more so, than the 1925 version.

The big question is how the only known copy was destroyed in a fire–what about the copies that were distributed in other countries? I have a theory about that. There were some German studios that had no qualms about adapting a book without getting the proper copyright stuff out of the way, hence the whole Nosferatu debacle. I can’t help but wonder if something similar happened here–the studio was sued for creating an unauthorized adaptation and ordered to destroy the copies, but one of the copies was saved from destruction only to later be lost in a fire. Of course, I know a lot of silent films were lost due to reasons that had nothing to do with court orders or devious plots, but it could still be an explanation as to what happened.

Either way, it’s an interesting glimpse into the earliest known adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera.

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