The sad and funny ghosts of Versailles

Since the 1991 MET world premiere of The Ghosts of Versailles in 1991 a precious few new American operas have seen the light of day in our largest and arguably most important opera house. New works by Nico Muhly, Thomas Adés, and revivals of operas by John Adams and Phillip Glass have received both positive reviews and lukewarm response from deferential critics and audiences weaned on a steady diet of the Puccini-Verdi canon. So it was with much surprise that John Corigliano’s opera buffa received a warm response from audiences in its initial sold out run at the MET. No wonder, what with a stellar cast that included Teresa Stratas, Marilyn Horne, Renée Fleming, and Gino Quilico.

Now the Château de Versailles label has issued an exhaustively annotated, impeccably engineered, and faultlessly produced release with an immensely promising cast of young singers, beautifully led by Joseph Colaneri at the helm of the Orchestre de l’ Opéra Royal, in an imaginatively staged production by Jay Lesinger that originated at the Glimmerglass Festival, before traveling to France to be filmed live in the jewel box theatre at Versailles. The release comes in an elegant box combining a CD, a Blue Ray, and a DVD.

The results are rewarding, and they range from standout performances by baritone Ben Schaefer as a lively, vocally and dramatically nimble Figaro, the impressive baritone Jonathan Bryan as the half-ghostly, yet one-of-us Beaumarchais, the amply sonorous and appropriately ridiculous bass-baritone Peter Morgan as Louis XVI, the excellent tenor Christian Sanders as the perfectly over-the-top villain Bégearss, and the sterling tenor Brian Wallin as Almaviva, the nobleman we all love to hate.

The female contingent of the sizeable cast is strong as well: Teresa Perrotta’s lovely lyric soprano elicits memories of Teresa Stratas, the original Marie- Antoinette, and the supple-voiced mezzo-soprano Kayla Siembieda is an absolute hoot in her double assignment as Susanna and as an ersatz Turkish hoochie-coochie dancing diva.

John Corigliano tapped the late playwright William M. Hoffman to be his librettist. While much of Hoffman’s libretto has plenty to commend it, including language that is both elegant and easy to sing, there are longueurs that at times make Corigliano’s opera, clocking-in at over two and one half hours overstay its welcome notwithstanding its many musical riches. Very likely an attempt to trim the running time of this opera would skirt legal trouble, so that whatever company sets out to revive The Ghosts of Versailles will have to be content to play it as is or leave it alone.

But in the comfort of one’s home Corigliano’s music and the theatrical values of the Opéra Royal-Climmerglass coproduction make these funny and sad ghosts pleasant company.

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT THE ARTS