The 2019 Glimmerglass Festival includes a new production of John Corigliano’s opera “The Ghosts of Versailles”. It is a sprawling work whose complexity has limited the venues that have performed it.
The Glimmerglass Festival has taken on the challenge of presenting the work in a co-production with France’s Château de Versailles Spectacles. The Glimmerglass Festival’s imaginative production successfully demonstrates that the opera can be presented in a smaller theater without compromising the elements that make it an absorbing experience.
Yelena Dyachek’s Ghost of Marie Antoinette
One of the opera’s elements is a ghost world populated by French aristocracy, including King Louis XVI, who were executed by French Revolutionary forces. The opera’s principal character is Ghost of Louis XVI’s queen, Marie Antoinette.
Ukrainian soprano Yelena Dyachek gave an affecting portrait of the fated queen. She successively negotiated the challenges of the opera’s longest role, which combines sublime moments of lyrical beauty with passages of demanding vocal tessitura.
[Below: Yelena Dyachek as the ghost of Queen Marie Antoinette; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Dyachek memorably performed the Queen’s aria Once There Was a Golden Bird, her quartet with the characters Beaumarchais, Countess Almaviva and Cherubino, and her eloquent finale in which the regal ghost finally accepts her death.
Jonathan Bryan’s Count Beaumarchais
Texas baritone Jonathan Bryan was effective in the role of Count Beaumarchais, the author of the “Figaro” plays The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro.
[Below: Jonathan Bryan as Count Beaumarchais; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Assigned the lead male role in “Ghosts of Versailles” in his second year as a Glimmerglass Young Artist, Bryan is one of several Young Artists in the “Versailles” cast to have performed important roles in last season’s well-received “Silent Night” [See Review: Glimmerglass Festival’s “Silent Night”, Profoundly Moving Content, Stylishly Performed, July 22, 2018.]
[Below:: The ghost of Marie Antoinette (Yelena Dyachek, left) is interested in the plans of Beaumarchais (Jonathan Bryan, right) to change history and her fate; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Fesitval.]
Ben Schaeffer’s Figaro, Brian Wallin’s Count Almaviva and Kayla Siembieda’s Susanna
Iowa baritone Ben Schaeffer, who last season sang the comprimario role of Fiorello in “The Barber of Seville”, graduated to the role the barber, Figaro, himself.
Shaeffer charmed the Glimmerglass audience with Figaro’s show-stopping entrance aria They Wish They Could Kill Me with and received a sustained ovation for its tongue-twisting patter song.
[Below: the Count Almaviva (Bruce Wallin, left) even in Revolutionary times, regards himself as the master of Figaro (Ben Schaeffer, center) and Susanna (Kayla Sambieda, right); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Figaro’s sometime employer, the Count Almaviva, received a sprited portrayal from Minnesota tenor Bruce Wallin.
Minnesota mezzo-soprano Kayla Siembieda was a spunky Susanna, in her second season as a Glimmerglass Young Artist.
Joanna Latini’s Countess Almaviva and Katherine Maysek’s Cherubino,
New Jersey soprano Joanna Latini was the Countess Almaviva and Massachusetts mezzo-soprano Katherine Maysek was Almaviva’s spirited page, Cherubino.
The plot of the third play , The Guilty Mother (La Mère Coupable) in Beaumarchais’ “Figaro trilogy”, revolves around a romance between Cherubino and the Countess that produces an illegitimate son, Léon, who falls in love with the Count Almaviva’s illegitimate daughter, Florestine.
In the previous Glimmerglass Festival, Latini had the lead (title) role and Maysek a comprimario role in Janacek’s “Cunning Little Vixen” [Review: Glimmerglass Festival’s Charming “Cunning Little Vixen”, July 21, 2018.]
One of the opera’s magical moments is Cherubino’s courtship and ultimate seduction of the Countess whom he has always adored. The scene contains some of composer Corigliano’s most lyrical passages, crafted of fragments of Mozart arias from “Marriage of Figaro”.
[Below: Cherubino (Katherine Maysek) successfully propositions the Countess Almaviva (Joanna Latini, right); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival .]
Cherubino’s courtship is highlighted by a an easily recalled melody, that is soon transformed into a quartet for the two couples Cherubino and the Countess, and Marie Antoinette and Beaumarchais.
[Below: Beaumarchais (Jonathan Bryan, left) and Marie Antoinette (Yelena Dyachek, second from left) come upon the lovers Cherubino (Katherine Maysek, right) and the Countess Almaviva (Joanna Latini, second from right); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Spencer Britten’s Léon and Emily Misch’s Florestine
Canadian tenor Spencer Britten and New York soprano Emily Misch are both bright-sounding Glimmerglass Young Artists. Their performances exemplified young love and the triumph of that love over the desires of a parent (Count Almaviva) who wants a different outcome for his personal advantage.
[Below: Regardless of her father’s wishes to the contrary, Florestine (Emily Misach, front right) is determined to marry Léon (Spencer Britten, left); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Britten, who is in his second season as a Glimmerglass Festival Young Artist previously performed as one of the French soldiers in “Silent Night”. Britten is one of the Glimmerglass Festival Young Artists who has pursued the performance level dancing that the Festival’s General Director Francesca Zambello strongly encourages, playing the Jet, Gee-Tar, in last season’s production of Bernstein’s “West Side Story” and a dancer in this season’s production of Kern’s “Show Boat”.
Christian Sanders’ Bégearss and Tucker Reed Breder’s Wilhelm
Virginia tenor Christian Sanders performed the role of the villain Bégearss singing Bégearss’ anthem Long Live the Worm with spectacular success, receiving one of the evening’s biggest ovations.
[Below: Bégearss (Christian Sanders, above) terrorizes his servant, Wilhelm (Tucker Reed Breder, below); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Actor/dancer Tucker Reed Breder, another returning Glimmerglass Festival Young Artist with credits in Glimmerglass productions of Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” and Bernstein’s “West Side Story”, successively assayed the comic role of Begearss much-abused servant, Wilhelm.
Peter Morgan’s Louis XVI and other ghosts
Michigan bass Peter Morgan made a strong impression vocally and dramatically as the ghost of King Louis XVI.
[Below: the ghost of Louis XVI (Peter Morgan, left) confronts that of Count Beaumarchais (Jonathan Bryan, right); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Easily annoyed and jealous of his queen’s obvious interest in Beaumarchais, Louis challenges Beaumarchais to a duel, although the Queen correctly observes that everyone present is dead.
Canadian tenor Zachary Rioux performs the roles of a Marquis and of a Page with distinction. A ghost quartet consists of New Jersey soprano Bryn Holdsworth, Illinois mezzo-soprano Lindsay Metzger, New York tenor Maxwell Levy, and Vermont bass-baritone Christopher Carbin.
Three gossiping ghosts were played by Florida soprano Teresa Perrotta, Canadian mezzo-soprano Simran Claire and New York soprano Abigail Paschke. A Woman With Hat and a Duchess were both played by Massachusetts soprano Noragh Devlin.
[Below: the ghosts of King Louis XVI (Peter Morgan, seated, right) and the Marquis (Zachary Rioux, seated left) play cards as an aristocratic lady (Noragh Devlin, standing) observes the game; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
The new production presents the ghost world spectacularly, with white wigs and costumes, scrims, projections and eerie sounds.
William Clay Thompson’s Suleyman Pasha, Gretchen Krupp’s Samira and Other Cast Members
Composer Corigliano has made the point that fundamental to the origins of the “Ghosts of Versailles” project was his desire to write a modern opera buffa whose first act ended, as Rossini’s opera buffas each do, with scenes of sidesplitting comic hilarity.
The scene that takes place in the Turkish Embassy, with its high-jinks performed by Schaeffer’s Figaro, is designed to meet that objective.
Kentucky bass-baritone William Clay Thompson, whom I had praised in Minnesota Opera’s “Thaïs” [See Review: Minnesota Opera’s Splendidly Exotic, Erotic “Thaïs” – May 12, 2018], gave a solid performance as the Suleyman Pasha. Virginia mezzo-soprano Gretchen Krupp showed comic flair as Samira.
Connecticut baritone Charles H. Eaton was the English Ambassador. Zimbabwe soprano Tanyaradzwa A. Tawengwa was a Pursuer and a Revolutionary. California dancer Rachel Kay was the image of the living Marie Antoinette and a Dancer. Other dancers were Shanel Bailey (New York), Joshua Kring (Texas) and Jorell Lawyer-Jefferson (Germany).
Connecticut tenor Spencer Hamlin was a Swordsman and a Revolutionary. New York baritone Jawan Cliff-Morris was a Bishop and a Swordsman.
Maestro Joseph Colaneri and the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra
Maestro Joseph Colaneri showed affection for Corigliano’s musical score, eliciting a brilliant sound from the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra.
Jay Lesenger’s Direction, James Noone’s Sets, Nancy Leary’s Costumes and Other Production Elements
This century’s largest “Ghosts of Versailles” production to date is a Los Angeles Opera effort promoted by the company’s superstar music director, Maestro James Conlon [Review: Los Angeles Opera Launches Ambitious New Production of “Ghosts of Versailles” – February 7, 2015]. That production required a commitment of resources by the Los Angeles Opera that few companies would be able or willing to match.
The Glimmerglass Festival production design and stage direction were revelatory, demonstrating that this work can be produced on a smaller scale. Fewer people were used onstage in Glimmerglass than in the Los Angeles Opera production of the opera cited above, but every Glimmerglass Festival scene was dynamic.
Several times during the opera, the audience aisles were spotlighted, allowing the ghosts to promenade as they enter or exit the stage. By doing so, the audience, in effect, is seated as if it were within the Palace of Versailles.
The sets, mimicking the mirrored walls of Versailles, enhanced the idea of a “ghost world”. The sets of the “opera within the opera” Figaro scenes were colorful and attractive.
I recommend the production and cast to all opera lovers who wish to see meritorious works, such as “Ghosts of Versailles”, that have a chance to enter the world’s opera performance repertory.