Ghostly triumph booked in for eternity

First Night: 'The Phantom of the Opera', Basel

DAVID LISTER

Both the show and the business elements of showbusiness were played out here yesterday as Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's artistic colonisation of Europe moved on to a new plane.

Indeed, the plane was one of the more remarkable elements. A Crossair Saab 2000 aeroplane had its fuselage painted with the Phantom of the Opera logo and mask, dwarfing the Swiss flag. As it took off from Heathrow yesterday, the climax to the title track played through the cabin. The official carrier for the show in Basel, it will bring people from cities all over Europe with Phantom ticket hot lines already installed in Swiss and German airports.

Last night was the unveiling of the pounds 25m marble, steel and glass 1500- seat theatre that Basel businessmen and city fathers built solely to hand to Sir Andrew's Really Useful Group to boost the economy of the city. Sir Andrew's team will run the theatre and probably stage the Phantom of the Opera in perpetuity. Should that show ever close, he has an "on- going programming option" to replace it.

But it won't be closing for a while. Before last night's Swiss premiere, his staff said they had sold pounds 10m of advance tickets. And they didn't even have to pay for the pounds 150,000 banquet after the show. Basel's grateful businessmen coughed up.

The show part of showbusiness began earlier with a press conference in the city hall where the composer faced a bewildering mixture of lavish tributes and hostile questions.

First, Herr Uli Vischer, vice-president of Basle city government, said that Basel shared certain qualities with Britain including a tendency to under-statement. The vice-president then continued: "With all probability, Basel is honoured today by the most distinguished visit from the United Kingdom since Her Majesty the Queen was greeted here 15 years ago ... Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is the man who inspires, promotes and enlivens with his genius again and again."

But, he was asked, what do you say to a Swiss newspaper which calls your music a patchwork of other composers?"

"I say rubbish," replied Sir Andrew.

And what do you say to claims that you are the Mozart of today, asked another.

"I say rubbish," replied Sir Andrew again.

Then the normally shy composer began to discourse unusually freely. Asked if he would write with Sir Tim Rice again, he damned with conspicuously faint praise: "I don't think it's likely. He has his own career now as an occasional lyricist with Disney, and I don't think we're on the same wavelength now."

He tried to deter questions about profits from the show -which go to the Really Useful Group - saying he was merely a shareholder in the group. The holding was 70 per cent.

And he told how Phantom began. He bought a book of it for 50 cents at a New York bookstall, thought the story "a load of hokum" and handed it to the director, Hal Prince, who wanted to direct a romantic musical. When they did collaborate on it, Sir Andrew said yesterday, "There was a lot of love in it for me. I wrote the role of Christine for my then wife Sarah Brightman and a lot of passion went into it."

The show, performed in German with Hal Prince again directing, looked and sounded splendid. In December Sir Andrew takes over a new theatre in Frankfurt purpose-built for his Sunset Boulevard. Britain's passionate one-man export drive rolls on.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot