When John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles opened at the Metropolitan Opera in 1991, it caused a seismic stir. Not only was it the company’s first world premiere since 1967, but it was also Corigliano’s (and librettist William Hoffman’s) first opera. Written for the Met’s centennial, it arrived in appropriately extreme and exquisite fashion. Eschewing blanket bombast, Corigliano juxtaposed melodies from Mozart and Rossini with full-throated verismo tactics and a grounding in the 20th-century American canon. The plot defies pithy summary; characters from Beaumarchais’s Figaro plays mingle with real-life historical figures, such as a beheaded Marie Antoinette, in
what Corigliano called a “grand opera buffa.”
However you describe it, Ghosts is one hell of a ride. Yet the “grand” part of the equation has kept the work from receiving the more frequent exposure it deserves. In New York, the opera has gone unstaged since 1995; a planned 2010 Met revival was mooted by 2008’s recessionista belt-tightening.
It’s therefore off-kilter, but nevertheless tantalizing, that the work’s first local performance in this millennium—and the New York premiere of a composer-approved version for reduced forces—would turn up at one of the city’s conservatories, even one as enterprising as the Manhattan School of Music. Jay Lesenger, a director with a storied career, helms this venture, with a cast of bright up-and-comers conducted by Steven Osgood. —Olivia Giovetti