The possibility of driving phase transitions in low-density condensates through the loss of phase coherence alone has far-reaching implications for the study of quantum phases of matter. This has inspired the development of tools to control and explore the collective properties of condensate phases via phase fluctuations. Electrically gated oxide interfaces1,2, ultracold Fermi atoms3,4 and cuprate superconductors5,6, which are characterized by an intrinsically small phase stiffness, are paradigmatic examples where these tools are having a dramatic impact. Here we use light pulses shorter than the internal thermalization time to drive and probe the phase fragility of the Bi2Sr2CaCu2O8+δ cuprate superconductor, completely melting the superconducting condensate without affecting the pairing strength. The resulting ultrafast dynamics of phase fluctuations and charge excitations are captured and disentangled by time-resolved photoemission spectroscopy. This work demonstrates the dominant role of phase coherence in the superconductor-to-normal state phase transition and offers a benchmark for non-equilibrium spectroscopic investigations of the cuprate phase diagram.