Thursday, October 10, 2013

John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles

The Halloween season is one of my favorite times of the year. The costumes, the decorations, the abundance of pumpkin-themed food items... October is a very season! This year, I thought it would be fun to have a weekly Halloween post--every Thursday until the big 3-1!-- to share in the fun, unique and sometimes spooky Halloween spirit. 

This week: 

The Ghosts of Versailles, an opera in two acts, took composer John Corigliano and writer William H. Hoffman roughly seven years to complete. Its initial seven-performance run, which premiered on December 19th, 1991, received mixed reviews, but the production was well-received for its lavish costumes, grand special effects, and powerful performances. In recent years, the revised edition of the opera--which removes some of the more grandiose staging of the original Met production--has become a favorite of college opera productions and smaller theaters, who may find the challenge of staging a legendary spectacle on a smaller scale.

 image: Teresa Stratas as Marie Antoinette in the original Met production

 image: Teresa Stratas as Marie Antoinette in the original Met production

The story is set in an afterlife populated by the ghosts of the court of Louis XVI. The ghosts, who have grown listless and bored, are attempting to cheer up the grieving ghost of Marie Antoinette. She is haunted by her death and cannot be stirred from her own grief. Even the arrival of the ghost of Beaumarchais, the playwright, who proclaims his love for her, does not change her mood.

 image: Beaumarchais and Marie Antoinette in the original Met production

Beaumarchais announces that he will stage an opera that will change Marie Antoinette's fate. This opera-within-an-opera, which uses characters from The Marriage of Figaro, will free the queen from her jailers and allow her to sail to America with Beaumarchais. As the opera-within-an-opera narrative unfolds, both the ghost audience and Beaumarchais find themselves in the story, and  Antoinette find herself awakening to potential feelings for the playwright. In the end, however, Marie Antoinette refuses to allow Beaumarchais to save her and accepts her fate and her death..(A thorough synopsis of the opera can be read at the US OPERA website here.)

Although the opera-within-an-opera narrative in The Ghosts of Versailles can sometimes be confusing--especially when the opera's "real" ghost characters throw themselves into the mix--it is an interesting show which is at times heartrending and, at others, downright spooky. The designs of the courtier ghosts in the original production can be quite unsettling, which lends an otherworldly air to the scenes with the actual ghosts of Versailles.

image: the ghosts of The Ghosts of Versailles

image: the ghosts of The Ghosts of Versailles 

image: the ghosts of The Ghosts of Versailles 

image: the ghosts of The Ghosts of Versailles 

The true grit of the opera, in my opinion, lies in the masterful performance by Teresa Stratas as Marie Antoinette. Horrified, grieving, angry, depressed--a powerful mixture of emotions experienced by the remnants of a woman who was torn from her world, her family and her life. The signature opera performed by Marie Antoinette in The Ghosts of Versailles is one of my favorite pieces, and it is luckily available for viewing on Youtube. 

I'll end this post with an expert from this emotional aria. If you would like to view the entire opera, I believe it may be on Youtube and it is also available for purchase on DVD via the Metropolitan Opera website.

I climb the stairs
Am I dreaming?
Someone wake me!
Three steps. Four.
I want to cry out,
"I am good!
I am innocent!”
Seven. Eight.
"Take care of my children!"
Nine. Ten.
"Don’t take me!
Don't take me!”
Lord, let me forget!
Grant me oblivion!

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