Let us raise our glasses to the ambitious folks at Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater who have given us a dazzling production of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles. Having missed the production at the Met in 1991 we were most eager to see what a contemporary librettist (William M. Hoffman) could do with the Beaumarchais characters so beloved in Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. To our knowledge, no one had previously created an opera from the final play of the Beaumarchais trilogy entitled La Mère Coupable.
In the play, Count Almaviva and the Countess are living in Paris. The Countess, twenty years earlier, had an affair with Cherubino and has a son named Léon whom the Count has never accepted. Never mind that he himself had an affair with a noblewoman and has a daughter named Florestine! The goose is sauced while the gander goes free, unwilling to forgive his wife. Naturally these two young people fall in love and wish to marry, which the Count opposes.
This plot is used by Hoffman in a most unusual way. He layers the story with an invention--Beaumarchais is enamored of Marie-Antoinette, here called Antonia and wants to rewrite history and save her from the guillotine. When Figaro rebels against what is written for him, Beaumarchais must enter the opera within the opera and thereby loses his creative powers.
MSM has spared no expense or effort in mounting a production that works on every level. In the opening scene the ghosts of the aristocracy are asleep and look very much like statues of alabaster but they soon come to life and sing. The stage is often filled with the ghosts, including Antonia herself, observing Beaumarchais' play, and later figures of the revolution bent on convicting and beheading the aristocracy.
Astute direction by renowned director Jay Lesenger makes this confusing tale work seamlessly. Steven Osgood on the podium elicited some fine playing of Mr. Corigliano's unusual music which is, stylistically, all over the map. Sufficient credit must be given to set designer Steven Capone and costume designer Daniel James Cole , to hair and makeup coordinator Amy Jean Wright as well as to choreographer Francis Patrelle.
Master's degree candidates performed their roles with uniform excellence. We especially enjoyed the Figaro of baritone Nickoli Strummer who had a great aria in Act I, soprano Cree Carrico's equally great aria as Antonia, tenor Aaron Short's performance as the hypocritical villain Bégearss, baritone Gideon Dabi as Beaumarchais, tenor Brett Sprague as Almaviva, soprano Rebecca Krynski as the Countess and Kaitlyn Costello-Fain as Susanna.
Some special moments stood out: simultaneous duets between Antonia and Beaumarchais alongside the Countess and (long dead) Cherubino, the latter sung by countertenor Anthony Bucci; an amusing duel (choreographed by Rod Kinter) between ghosts who realize they can't die; and an hilarious scene at the Turkish embassy with a Pasha and a dancing girl named Samira, sung by Rachelle Pike whose rich mezzo was well used in a faux folk song that had us in stitches. Florestine was sung by Nicole Haslett and Léon by Mingjie Lei. They did make a handsome couple.
The amount of care invested in this production was evident and the result can be considered an unqualified success. The Met could not have done it better.
(c) meche kroop