LA Opera's The Ghosts of Versailles Review-Figaro Antics Liven Up the Dead

Marie Antoinette (Patricia Racette) is beside herself. She is stuck in an eternal ghostly palace with jaded aristocracy, who have also lost their heads during the French Revolution. She was brought to France from Austria at the tender age of 14. She really doesn’t understand why she deserved to be guillotined, and she has no reason to want to carry on.  Even her husband, King Louis XIV (Kristinn Sigmundsson), is sick of her whining.

 

But on the scene comes the charming and creative Beaumarchais (Christopher Maltman), creator of Figaro, the superstar and heroic character in her era.  Figaro has entertained people for decades with his escapades, rascally character, his romantic ventures and sticking up for the little people.  If anyone can bring new life into an old ghost, it is Figaro.  Beaumarchais, who is sweet on “Antonia” as she is now called, promises to not only enliven her again but, through his art and artistry, actually change history.  She may not have to die in the first place!

 

Thus begins a series of operettas for the palace entertainment.  The king shows some jealousy, which leads to a swordfight with Beaumarchais, until they finally realize it is pointless, since they are both already dead.

 

After that the audience is treated to a series of Figaro-themed operettas. Some are hilariously over the top. And there is an enactment of the French Revolution and events leading to it, in which Figaro tries to save Marie Antoinette. 

 

This is the wild three-hour ride of the West-Coast premiere of The Ghosts of Versailles playing at the L.A. Opera. Written by William M. Hoffman and music by John Corigliano, it is an artistic and ambitious mishmash of styles, ideas and flavors of opera — at times a bit unclear and other times hilarious — but surely something for everybody, as we witnessed with the appreciative audience outbursts. In the end the themes all come together.

 

The main set is filled with floating and headless ghosts in lavish palatial surroundings, and Beaumarchais unveils his reworking of history on a small private stage.

 

The opera parodies are the most fun.  The real stand-out is the Middle-Eastern theme with the pink elephant.  The character of Figaro mingles and dances in disguise as one of the harem girls, to great comic effect. Patti LuPone as Samira is a knockout with her Turkish jibberish, and her sidekick, Pasha Suleyman, played by Philip Cokorinos, is also mesmerizing. Wagner’s Brunhilda appears very briefly to scold that all these goings-on are not real opera — and she gets a pie in the face.

 

Lucas Meachem is wonderful as Figaro, although on his opening rhyming song, we had some trouble hearing all the verses.  In an interesting operatic twist reminiscent of  Pirandello, at one point Figaro defies his creator to follow his own heart. Guanqun Yu as Countess Almaviva had an especially lovely voice. Her duets with the perky Susanna, played with flourish with Lucy Schaufer, were stand-outs. I found Christopher Maltman as Beaumarchais appropriately charming as the romantic figure and creative director of the shows.

 

There were fascinating acrobats and in fact all the myriad of movement on stage was top notch.

With so many diverse characters, with such a wide variey of movement and switching from comedy to sincerity, it takes a special talent to pull it all together.  Special kudos to Darko Tresnjak the director, Peggy Hickey choreographer, and Ed Douglas fight director.  Linda Cho’s costumes are outstanding. As always, James Conlon and the L.A. Opera orchestra are perfect.

 

Georja Umano is an actor and animal advocate.

Photos by Craig Matthew, Craig Henry and Ben Gibbs,  courtesy of LA Opera

This opera is part of the LA Opera's three month Figaro Unbound program

Two more performances:

Thursday Feb. 26 at 7:30pm

Sunday March 1 at 2:00pm

Buy tickets at LAOPERA.org or call 213 972 8001

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