With John Corigliano’s “The Ghosts of Versailles,” LA Opera delivers a spectacle of epic proportions. The giant pink elephant Patti LuPone rides onstage seems miniature in comparison.
When the curtain rose to reveal the theater of Versailles, the audience bubbled with oohs and aahs, applauding the ornate scenery by Alexander Dodge and sumptuous costumes by Linda Cho. Director Darko Tresnjak (who also helmed the exquisite double bill of “The Broken Jug” and “The Dwarf” in 2008) has envisioned Corigliano’s surreal and absurd universe of decapitated 18th-century French ghosts, operatic caricatures and Turkish acrobats with a focus on utter joy, creating an entertainment sparkling with moment after moment of magic.
For someone unfamiliar with Corigliano’s work (with librettist William M. Hoffman), I was blown away by the creativity and the uproarious humor of this grand opera buffa that simultaneously pokes fun at the genre and accentuates its most sublime qualities. The story follows deceased playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, who creates an opera-within-an-opera featuring the characters from his Figaro trilogy, including “The Barber of Seville” and “The Marriage of Figaro,” for King Louis XVI (Kristinn Sigmundsson), Marie Antoinette and their fellow guillotined aristocrats. In love with Marie Antoinette, Beaumarchais attempts to alter history to save the doomed queen from her inevitable fate.
Beaumarchais says, “My opera can cure melancholy” — an understatement indeed. The singers and dancers played their parts to perfection. In particular, Lucas Meachem was a hilarious and bawdy Figaro, Robert Brubaker’s Begearss was deliciously evil, and Patti LuPone was riveting as Samira. Patricia Racette was luminous as Marie Antoinette, and Christopher Maltman was mesmerizing as the operatic “creator.”
LA Opera’s “Ghosts” is absolutely remarkable in every other possible creative aspect as well. I don’t think I’ve ever seen lighting and projection design (by York Kennedy and Aaron Rhyne, respectively) used to such outstanding effect, like the red glow and squirming invertebrates that surround Begearss during his villainous “Long Live the Worm.” James Conlon and the LA Opera Orchestra brought Corigliano’s masterful score, filled with new notations and intriguing sounds, to life with chilling electricity.
“Ghosts” is a triumph for an opera company that only recently was still struggling with the rest of the economy. With a cast of 80 or so and a budget of $1 million for sets and costumes alone, “Ghosts” is an ambitious undertaking. The only other full-scale production was in 1991; and that was for the Metropolitan Opera premiere. LA Opera shows us how “Ghosts” should be done.
The Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation was a major donor. With all the money floating around LA, hopefully more philanthropists will step up to support the world-class LA Opera’s vision for productions with such bravado. LA Opera has created an entertainment that will set the bar for future productions of this acclaimed contemporary opera.
—Julie Riggott, Culture Spot LA
“The Ghosts of Versailles” continues through March 1 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., LA 90012. For tickets or more information, call (213) 972-8001 or visit http://www.laopera.org.