John Corigliano: The Ghosts of Versailles
Ghosts: Patricia Racette (Marie-Antoinette), Christopher Maltman (Beaumarchais), Kristinn Sigmundsson (Louis XVI), Scott Scully (Marquis), Victoria Livengood (Woman with Hat), So Young Park, Vanessa Becerra, Peabody Southwell (Trio of Gossips), Summer Hassan, Lacey Jo Benter, Frederick Balentine, Patrick Blackwell (Jaded Aristocrats at the Opera); The Players in the Opera: Lucas Meachem (Figaro), Lucy Schaufer (Susanna), Joshua Guerrero (Count Almaviva), Patti LuPone (Samira), Guanqun Yu (Rosina), Renée Rapier (Cherubino), Robert Brubaker (Bégearss), Joel Sorensen (Wilhelm), Brenton Ryan (Léon), Stacy Tappan (Florestine), Philip Cokorinos (Suleyman Pasha), Museop Kim (English Ambassador), Los Angeles Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Roberto Cani (Concertmaster), James Conlon (Conductor)
Live recording: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, California (February and March 2015) – 155’34
Pentatone PTC 5186 538 SACD – Booklet in English (Distributed by Naxos of America)
When this Grand opera buffa took to The Metropolitan Opera stage on December 19, 1991 (after 12 years in the making), it featured a powerhouse cast, headed by Teresa Stratas and James Levine at the podium. Luckily, a DVD captured the splendid Colin Graham production, yet something was missing: the need for a top-notch audio recording equaling talents of the original cast. Enter Los Angeles Opera (LA Opera) where there’s nothing short of describing this 2015 production as “fabulous.”
Entangled with past and present, librettist William Hoffman drew from Beaumarchais’ La Mère coupable in which the playwright’s wraith (Christopher Maltman) re-winds history, via his own newly devised opera, in order for Marie-Antoinette’s ghost (Patricia Racette) to come to terms with her execution. Here, John Corigliano has concocted an extremely adroit score, helping to magnify Beaumarchais’ stock characters into a twisted, wonderful chaotic soup.
Additionally, John Corigliano’s use of unconventional instruments adds orchestral coloring and a phantasmal axis which James Conlon delivers with finesse and detail every step of the way.
On the character side, Patricia Racette’s hefty register makes for a fitting, royal Marie-Antoinette. In a way, we can’t help but have pathos for her at the end of the opera. While her final aria is viscerally penetrating, we can’t help but think about her amorous connect with Christopher Maltman’s Beaumarchais who emcees with commanding posture.
Two of the strongest assets going for this Pentatone CD are consistency and continuity. We have a bucket load of artists who have appeared in other LA Opera productions, so this helps build a nice foundation. Pivotal in moving the entire opera forward is Lucas Meachem who’s not an unfamiliar face to The Dorothy Chandler, especially when assuming Figaro back in 2009 in
Il barbiere di Siviglia. Now we hear the scheming character inside this opera, from beginning to end and with gamboling hilarity. Guanqun Yu’s buttery overtures as Rosina fit like a glove with affectionate advances made by Renée Rapier’s Cherubino.
The Ghosts of Versailles wouldn’t be complete without the seamier side to the plot, and LA Opera favorite Robert Brubaker returns as the evil worm, Bégearss, whose side-kick, Wilhelm, adds another punch of wackiness. Joel Sorensen, who has graced the stage many times in Los Angeles, generally overreaches his roles to excessiveness; however, in this production, his outrageous portrayal as the blundering assistant (Wilhelm) is exemplary and elicits more than a couple of chuckles.
Whipping up an Asia Minor factor into the plot, the Turkish Embassy scene is both entrancing and entertaining. Situated in a fine deep baritone-bass voice, LA Opera member Philip Cokorinos’ Suleyman Pasha entrées one of the musical highlights, the “Cabaletta”, here sung by Tony Award © winning actress/singer Patti LuPone. We experience an ardent finery and ambitious seduction...top of the line delivery from Ms. LuPone.
Listening once to The Ghosts of Versailles isn’t enough, requiring revisits for new discoveries of pithy punctuation which flip the score forward in nanoseconds: hints of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (appropriately), Così fan tutte (“Soave sia il vento”), Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, John Adams’ Nixon in China, the might of Philip Glass’ Akhnaten with dithers of Verdi’s Falstaff and grandiose remarks floating by from Ariadne auf Naxos. John Corigliano is a brilliant engineer.
Pentatone, exceptional in their craftsmanship, has superbly captured this opera in rich SACD. This is important to consider because this World Premiere Recording was executed live and since The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion doesn’t necessarily have the most stellar acoustical attributes.
Darko Tresnjak is a gifted Stage Director, especially when teamed up with the lavish sets created by Alexander Dodge and Linda Cho’s costumes. Therefore, could we (hopefully) look forward to seeing a DVD of this LA Opera production in the not-too-distant-future? The impact would be that more immense. Highly recommended.