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New Version of Corigliano’s 'Ghosts of Versailles'

Spring opera based upon the third play in the Beaumarchais “Figaro” trilogy

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May 3, 2010 | by Judy Moore
The ghost of Marie-Antoinette is among the opera's main characters, which is set in the present and the autumn of 1793.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Opera lovers are in for a treat this spring. A new and sleeker version of John Corigliano's masterpiece "The Ghosts of Versailles" will be the final opera in the 2009-10 season presented by the Northwestern University Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music.

The opera is loosely based on situations and characters from the third play in Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais' Figaro trilogy, "The Guilty Mother." Corigliano's opera is the third installation of Northwestern Opera Theater's Beaumarchais trilogy.

The Bienen School is staging the first academic production of the new orchestra reduction of "The Ghosts of Versailles" commissioned and performed by the Opera Theatre of St. Louis last summer. The production is part of Northwestern's John Corigliano Festival, which honors the award-winning composer and runs from May 12 through 30. In addition to the spring opera, the festival includes a composition master class led by the composer and four concerts highlighting Corigliano's music. 

Performances of "The Ghosts of Versailles" will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 21, and 3 p.m. Sunday, May 23, in Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St. on Northwestern's Evanston campus. "The Ghosts of Versailles" features music by Corigliano and a libretto by William H. Hoffman. It was commissioned by New York's Metropolitan Opera Company for its 100th anniversary. The original version, premiered at the Met in 1991, is a "grand opera buffa" scored for a large cast of singers and musicians.

"We are the first opera organization -- professional or academic -- to perform "The Ghosts of Versailles" in a season that also included the other operas based on the Beaumarchais trilogy, ‘The Barber of Seville' and ‘The Marriage of Figaro,'" said Northwestern University Director of Opera Jay Lesenger, who is staging the opera. "We also are the first academic venue to perform this revised orchestration. It will be the most intricate production and largest cast in the history of Northwestern's opera program."

The original New York production boasted close to 300 cast members and a full orchestration of nearly 100 musicians in the orchestra pit, plus another orchestra on stage. In addition to the new reduced orchestration that combines two orchestras into one, Northwestern's production will feature a cast of 45 singers, dancers, supers (individuals who appear on stage but do not sing) and children. "The Ghosts of Versailles" will be performed in English with English supertitles.

The two-act opera is set in the present and also the autumn of 1793 in the Queen‘s Theatre at the Palace of Versailles, which has been haunted for more than 200 years by the ghosts of the court of Louis XVI. The ghosts of Beaumarchais and Marie-Antoinette are among the opera's main characters. The playwright pledges to re-write history in his new opera and change Marie-Antoinette's fate.

Composer Corigliano is the recipient of three Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, the Grawemeyer Award and an Oscar, as well as Musical America's first-ever "Composer of the Year" title. Librettist Hoffman wrote the 1985 Broadway play "As Is," one of the first plays to focus on AIDS, for which he won the Drama Desk and Obie awards and a Tony nomination.

Steven Osgood has conducted opera at New York City Opera, De Nederlandse Opera and Chautauqua Opera. He spent seven years as artistic director of American Opera Projects and two seasons as assistant conductor with the Metropolitan Opera. Northwestern's Associate Director of Orchestras, Robert G. Hasty, will serve as resident conductor. The production also features set designs by Steven Capone, costumes by Darcy Hofer and lighting designs by Lee Fiskness.

Single tickets are $18 for the general public; $15 for senior citizens and Northwestern faculty and staff; and $8 for full-time students with IDs. For more information, call the Pick-Staiger Concert Hall business office at (847) 491-5441. For tickets, call the Pick-Staiger Concert Hall ticket office at (847) 467-4000 or purchase online at www.pickstaiger.org.

Topics: Campus Life