Liz, David, Richard, and I saw *The Ghosts of Versailles* at Glimmerglass Opera on 7/13/19. It’s an opera with music by John Corigliano on a libretto by William H. Hoffman, commissioned by the Met and premiered there in 1991. I saw it when it was broadcast on PBS and watched that performance many, many times. I had never seen the opera onstage.
It’s a surreal story about Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, and other members of their court in some corner of the afterlife. Marie Antoinette is disturbed by the events of the end of her life and is courted by Beaumarchais (the playwright of *The Barber of Seville,* *The Marriage of Figaro,* and other works), who tells her he can write her an opera that would bring her back to life and change the course of history, so the Revolution would not happen and she would live. The opera that he writes involves, Figaro, Susanna, Almaviva, Rosina, and other characters from the Mozart and Rossini operas.
The production was directed by Jay Lesenger and was spare and evocative, especially compared to the lavish Met production. The young cast was uniformly strong, with especially impressive performances by Yelena Dyachek as Marie Antoinette and Jonathan Bryan as Beaumarchais. They both have strong, appealing voices and beautifully put across the drama of their characters.
The opera itself was a joy to hear and see. David was driven a little crazy by Corigliano’s quotes from the Mozart and Rossini operas, and the general tone of cockiness in the first act. A quote from David: "I kind of dig pomo quotes, though, mostly as a welcome affront to academic modernism. The thing I really enjoy about Corigliano's writing is his eclecticism, using modernist and postmodernist passages, always accessible and musical.
This was Corigliano's first (and to my knowledge, only) opera, and one gets the impression that he thought, “Ya know, this is for the Met, I have all these incredible opera singers who are going to be in it, I’m gonna write a freaking OPERA.” It’s a wildly ambitious work, full of force and moments of beauty, full of scenes that are sure to please the audience. The Mozart and Rossini quotes are pretty obvious, and I was struck by a few sections that sounded like Messaien.
We were sitting in row B and all four of us were puzzled by conductor Joseph Colaneri. He often raised his index finger, then two fingers, then three fingers with his left hand. What could he have been signaling to the orchestra, and aren’t they smart enough to count the bars themselves? That was a little perplexing, but he kept the show together from start to finish in music that sounds somewhat loosely organized at times, so clearly he knew what he was doing.
The performance we saw was the Glimmerglass premiere, the first performance of the run, and was introduced by Artistic Director Francesca Zambello. She said that even though the show was starting at 8 PM New York time on July 13th, it was the next morning, Bastille Day, in France. And they planned it that way. That was funny. She also said that the next stop for this production will be Versailles - - it’s being performed by the same singers in the leading roles at their theater this spring. Can you imagine.
YouTube has two wonderful scenes from the original Met production. Here's Teresa Stratas as Marie Antoinette in her searing first act aria. Stratas might not have had the most beautiful voice (definitely not as beautiful as Dyachek), but what an extraordinary performer.
And Marilyn Horne stole the show as Samira, the singer at the party at the Turkish embassy at the end of act one. The woman who sang the role at Glimmerglass was just fine, but we want more than that! You need a real hammy stage animal in this part. Miss Horne totally nailed it. Los Angeles Opera did this last season and they had Patti Lupone in the role. Why didn't Glimmerglass get someone fabulous?
My favorite moment is at 0:57 when she sings, "In every house, there is a cesspool."