‘The Gosts of Versailles’ by Corigliano

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Corigliano
LABELS: PentaTone
ALBUM TITLE: Corigliano
WORKS: The Ghosts of Versailles
PERFORMER: Victoria Livengood, Kristinn Sigmundsson, Scott Scully, So Young Park, Vanessa Becerra, Peabody Southwell, Summer Hassan, Lacey Jo Benter, Frederick Ballentine, Patrick Blackwell, Christopher Maltman, Patricia Racette, Lucas Meachem, Lucy Schaufer, Joshua Guerrero, Guanqun Yu, Brenton Ryan, Stacey Tappan, Robert Brubaker, Joel Sorensen, Renée Rapier, Philip Cokorinos, Museop Kim, Patti LuPone; LA Opera Chorus & Orchestra/
CATALOGUE NO: Pentatone PTC 5186 538 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Commissioned with pomp for the Metropolitan Opera’s 100th anniversary in 1983, premiered belatedly to hosannas in 1991, John Corigliano’s self-styled ‘grand opera buffa’ has latterly led quite a sheltered life. The problem has been the mix’s ‘grand opera’ element, requiring outlays beyond many companies in a rigorously cost-cutting age. A 1993 video cassette, later issued on an elusive DVD, documented Colin Graham’s lavish original Met staging. Singing was excellent; less so the unevenly balanced sound.

This Penatone CD, then, crisply drawn from LA Opera’s stage performances last year, is especially welcome. We might not actually see the two layered worlds in William M Hoffman’s libretto – the Versailles ghosts of Beaumarchais, Marie Antoinette and company, and the Figaro opera conjured by Beaumarchais as a diversion and a way of challenging fate. But the listener can definitely revel in the mongrel beauty of Corigliano’s score, a dazzling patchwork of modernist phantasmagoria and neo-classical clarity, wittily dancing with echoes of Mozart and Strauss, plus one mock spot of Wagner.

Patricia Racette’s high-altitude vibrato spoils some of her flights as Marie Antoinette. But the rest of the cast are very reliable, from Christopher Maltman, solidly incisive as Beaumarchais, to Robert Brubaker, vigorous as the villain Bégearss, and Broadway’s Patti LuPone, in for a colourful bit as the Turkish singer Samira.

The biggest star remains the music itself. Listening to the ensemble numbers, all floating beauties, sparklingly orchestrated, you can only hope for a second Corigliano opera – just as richly textured and skilful, but perhaps smaller-sized.

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Geoff Brown