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The Ghosts of Versailles

Music by John Corigliano
Libretto by William M. Hoffman
suggested by the play La mère coupable by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
About The Ghosts of Versailles

The first new American work premiered at the Met since Virgil Thomson's Four Saints in Three Acts in 1973, Corigliano's Ghosts of Versailles takes its story in part from Beaumarchais' play La mere coupable, the final instalment in the trilogy that includes The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro.

Cast of Characters
An Elegant Woman in a Hat, the past glory of France Marie Antoinette, s
King Louis XVI The Marquis, t
Beaumarchais, bar Figaro, bar
Count Almaviva, t Rosina, countess Almaviva
Léon, son of Rosina and Cherubino Florestine, daughter of Almaviva
Patrick Honoré Bégearss Wilhelm, Bégearss' servant, spoken
Cherubino, s Suleyman Pasha, b
His Page The English Ambassador
An Egyptian Violist Samira
Ghostly Aristocrats, Citizens, Figaro's Pursuers, etc.

Act I

As the opera begins, the ghosts of the court of Louis XVI arrive at the theatre of Versailles. The king reveals that he knows that a commoner is courting his wife, Marie Antoinette, but he doesn't care. The ghosts are bored and listless, but hope that a new opera by Beaumarchais will be able to amuse them.

Beaumarchais arrives and tells the queen again that he loves her, but she refuses him, describing the memories of her own execution that still haunt her. Beaumarchais responds by announcing his opera: "A Figaro for Antonia." As the opera begins, Figaro appears, chased by a crowd of creditors and angry fathers and husbands, and after leading them a merry chase sings an aria ("They wish they could kill me") and patter-song. ("Diplomat, acrobat, teacher of etiquette") describing his past adventures and present life.

Figaro's virtuoso prologue is well recieved by the court, but before the first act of his opera begins, Beaumarchais shocks the court by announcing that with the queen's diamond necklace he can change the past and stop the French Revolution--and the Queen's execution. With a flourish he begins the opera.

The opera-within-an-opera begins in 1793, with the Spanish ambassador, Count Almaviva, planning to sell the Queen's necklace to the English Ambassador at a party that night at the Turkish embassy. As Almaviva sings, Louis XVI tells Beaumarchais to stop the opera, but the playwright continues introducing the cast of characters: the Count Almaviva, his servant Figaro and his wife Susanna, Rosina, Almaviva's wife, again estranged from the Count because she had a son by Cherubino; Leon, the son, and Florestine, the illegitimate daughter of the Count. Leon and Florestine are in love, but Almaviva, angry at his wife's infidelity, has forbidden them to marry, and instead promised Florestine to Bégearss, the villain of the piece.

As the opera opens, Figaro tries to convince Almaviva that Bégearss is a spy for the revolutionaries, but Almaviva, enraged, fires Figaro instead. Bégearss and his servant, Wilhelm, enter, and Figaro, eavesdropping, learns of the plan to sell the jewels at the Turkish embassy. Rosina tries again to convince Almaviva to forgive her son, but Almaviva rejects her. In a flashback, Rosina remembers an encounter with Cherubino, singing a love-duet which becomes a quartet as Beaumarchais and Marie join them. The King, enraged by Beaumarchais' attentions to his wife, duels with Beaumarchais and runs him through. Being a ghost already, however, he is not hurt, and all the courtiers begin to cheerfully stab each other.

The opera resumes at the Turkish embassy, where, despite the pleadings of Rosina and Susanna, Almaviva is about to sell the jewels. Bégearss and Wilhelm are there to arrest him as soon as they do; the sale is interrupted, however, by the entrance of the Turkish singer Samira. As Samira sings, Figaro is revealed, disguised as one of her dancing girls. He steals the necklace from the Count before the sale can take place; he is recognized, but escapes his pursuers.

Act II

As the act begins, Almaviva, Rosina, Florestine, and Susanna wait for Figaro to return as the ghosts argue about whether Beaumarchais really can change history. Figaro returns, but instead of returning the necklace as Beaumarchais wrote, Figaro refuses to hand over the jewels; he says the queen is not worth saving and instead is planning to use the money from the jewels to help the Almavivas escape. Angrily, Beaumarchais stops the performance, and, in order to return the story to its course, enters the opera himself. After a duet by Susanna and Rosina, Figaro returns, pursued by Beaumarchais, who allows Figaro and Susanna to witness a recreation of the trial of Marie Antoinette. Figaro, shocked at its unfairness, agrees to follow Beaumarchais' plan. In a Paris street, Bégearss stirs up a group of women to attack the ball Almaviva is giving that night.

At the ball, Florestine is upset because her father has banished Léon from the house. He soon arrives, though, and as they sing a love duet, Rosina again tries to convince the Count to allow them to marry. Before he can do anything, however, Bégearss breaks in with his band of revolutionaries and tries to convince Almaviva to give him the necklace. Figaro arrives and gives the necklace to him, trying to save Almaviva, but Bégearss has the entire family taken off to prison anyway when the Count denies him Florestine's hand. Beaumarchais tries to use his powers to save them, but they have disappeared, and only Figaro and Beaumarchais escape.

The Almavivas and Beaumarchais are thrown into the cell next to Marie Antoinette, where the family is reconciled with each other. Figaro and Beaumarchais arrive to rescue them, but only Wilhelm has the key to the Queen's cell. Rosina, coached by Susanna, pretends to be ill and lures Wilhelm in, where they overpower him and steal his keys. Before they can, however, Bégearss arrives, and ordering Wilhelm to be arrested, again demands Florestine's hand. Figaro, assisted by Wilhelm, denounces Bégearss, and when the revolutionaries find out that he had kept the necklace instead of using it to feed the poor as he claimed, Bégearss is carried off and the Spaniards escape, leaving Beaumarchais with the necklace and the keys to Marie's cell. Marie, however, stops him, explaining that to change her past would deny her his love in the present. So, as the Almavivas escape to America, the ghosts of Beaumarchais and the queen again watch her execution and then leave the theater together.

Performance History
World premiere
Metropolitan Opera, New York, New York
December 19, 1991
(also 1995)
Marie Antoinette: Teresa Stratas
Rosina: Renée Fleming
Florestine: Tracy Dahl
Samira: Marilyn Horne
Susanna: Judith Christin
Cherubino: Stella Zambalis
Woman in Hat: Jane Shaulis
B^eacute;gearss: Graham Clark
Count Almaviva: Peter Kazaras
L^eacute;on: Neil Rosenshein
Figaro: Gino Quilico
Beaumarchais: Håkan Hagegård
Louis XVI: James Courtney
Sulayman Pasha: Ara Berberian
James Levine, conductor
Colin Graham, production
John Conklin, set and costume design
Gil Weschler, lighting design
Debra Brown, choreography
Joseph Clark, technical director
Premiere of revised version
Lyric Opera of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
October 14, 1995
(8 performances)
Marie Antoinette: Sheri Greenawald
Rosina: Sylvia McNair
Florestine: Sunny Joy Langton
Samira: Della Jones
Susanna: Wendy White
Cherubino: Charlotte Hellekant
B^eacute;gearss: Graham Clark
Count Almaviva: Richard Drews
L^eacute;on: Gary Lehman
Figaro: Duane Croft
Beaumarchais: Håkan Hagegård
Leonard Slatkin, conductor
Colin Graham, stage director
John Conklin, set and costume design
Duane Schuler, lighting design
Discography Search for recordings of The Ghosts of Versailles at Amazon.com

John Corigliano: Phantasmagoria on The Ghosts of Versailles


Norman Fischer

Born in America 1938

CD / Gasparo 351 (2002)

John Corigliano: Phantasmagoria on The Ghosts of Versailles


Yo-Yo Ma and Emmanuel Ax

Phantasmagoria: the Music of John Corigliano

CD / Sony 60747 (2000)

Videography Search for videos of The Ghosts of Versailles at Amazon.com

John Corigliano

The Ghosts of Versailles (premiere production)


VHS / Deutsche Grammophon 44 072 530-3 (1991)

Bibliography Search for book about The Ghosts of Versailles at Amazon.com

John Corigliano: Samira's Aria from The Ghosts of Versailles


G. Schirmer American Opera Anthology: Mezzo-Soprano

G. Schirmer 2004

John Corigliano

Begears' Aria (Piano-vocal score)

G. Schirmer 1993

John Corigliano

Figaro's Aria (Piano-vocal score)

G. Schirmer 1993

John Corigliano: "Figaro was supposed to return the necklace" from The Ghosts of Versailles

John Corigliano: "They wish they could kill me" from The Ghosts of Versailles


G. Schirmer American Opera Anthology: Baritone/Bass

G. Schirmer 2004

John Corigliano

"They are always with me" (Piano-vocal score)

G. Schirmer 1993

John Corigliano: Aria of the Worm from The Ghosts of Versailles


G. Schirmer American Opera Anthology: Tenor

G. Schirmer 2004

John Corigliano: "They are always with me" from The Ghosts of Versailles


G. Schirmer American Opera Anthology: Soprano

G. Schirmer 2004

Last update: January 1, 2009