A couple days back I picked up the Phantom of the Opera movie soundtrack. I did this after watching the newest trailer, which is one of the better trailers I’ve seen recently. Alas, some aspects of this soundtrack are pretty disappointing.

I’m a big fan of musicals, although as a general rule I prefer the Lloyd Webber “operatic” musical over the older style that is sort of a play with songs. As I love the sound of a big orchestra, I look forward to movie versions of musicals because they almost always use big, excellent orchestras instead of the smaller pit orchestras that most often play the “Original Broadway/London Cast” recordings of musicals.

There are some exceptions (the 1982 movie version of Annie, which is just terrible, for example) but for the most part, movie soundtrack versions of musicals are my favorite. They have excellent performances, and orchestras and other instruments that just wouldn’t work if they had to hide in front of the stage.

This new Phantom soundtrack definitely features a comparatively large orchestra, but it is marred by strange arrangement decisions and some very bad mixing, particularly in the early tracks, like the extended Overture. (I imagine to accommodate opening credits) The bits of the overture that they extended are particularly problematic. I found the orchestrations weird and boring.

Another example is Christine’s “vocalizations” at the end of  “The Phantom of the Opera” (the song). There’s this really annoying rambling electric guitar in the background, and Christine’s wailing is very soft. I think it might be so soft to prevent you from noticing that it is synthesized. I can’t be sure, but it just doesn’t sound real to me.

The performances of most of the cast, overall, are pretty solid. Christine is probably the best of the group, particularly in “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” which is one of the highlights of the disk. In fact, once you get to this song, the quality of everything seems to improve. The phantom is the weakest performer of the group, in my opinion. He just doesn’t sell his anger or feel anywhere near as menacing as Michael Crawford. When I let Molly listen to a track, I used the word “pansy” to describe how he sounded in his rant in ”The Mirror.”

Ultimately, they don’t ever reach the level of quality that soundtracks such as The Music Man and Evita did. Evita is probably the best example of how to record and mix orchestra that I can think of. Evita is just so amazingly excellent sounding quality wise, and has some excellent vocal performances too.

My final verdict is that this is a pretty good soundtrack, but I don’t think it is better than the cast recordings in any way. They just didn’t seem to put much effort into putting together a big, well balanced sound. And their casting choices seem to have been made based on looks rather than singing talent. That is always a mistake with a musical.

Disclaimer:This is, of course, my opinion. YMMV.