The Ghosts of Versailles Synopsis and Further Reading

The Ghosts of Versailles Synopsis

The Ghosts of Versailles is set in Marie Antoinette’s private theater at Versailles in the present. The ghost of the playwright Beaumarchais, author of The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, has fallen madly in love with the ghost of the executed Queen Marie Antoinette, who after two centuries still grieves for her lost life.

Although Beaumarchais’ love is unrequited, he offers to cure the queen’s melancholy by means of a performance of his new opera, which has the power to change history. It features the latest exploits of Figaro and the Almaviva family, who attempt to save the queen from death in the French Revolution by effecting her escape from prison and transporting her to America. The other ghosts warn Beaumarchais that this will endanger his immortal soul, but he wishes only Marie Antoinette’s happiness.

Through Beaumarchais’ willingness to sacrifice himself during a performance of the opera, Marie Antoinette realizes the depth of his love for her and learns to love him. Just as Beaumarchais is about to unsuccessfully save Marie Antoinette, she rejects “salvation” and allows history to continue as it was. The two are joined for eternity.

Further Reading

Critic’s Notebook; “The Ghosts of Versailles” Fills The Tumbrels With Conventions In his favorable review of the premiere of Ghosts at the Metropolitan Opera for the New York Times, critic Bernard Holland explains how Ghosts plays with the conventions of opera. He argues that in the piece’s self-awareness and inability to take itself seriously, “The Ghosts of Versailles serves the valuable purpose of telling us what opera isn’t.”

Review/Opera; For the Met’s Centennial, A Gathering of Ghosts Edward Rothstein’s positive review for the New York Times oscillates between lauding the piece for its humor and reflecting upon the serious, haunting motifs (musical and literary) that follow him outside of the theater.

Rushing in Where Copland Feared to Tread Allan Kozinn of the New York Times interviews composer John Corigliano, librettist William M. Hoffman and Metropolitan Opera’s Artistic Director James Levine ahead of Ghosts’ 1991 premiere. They discuss the creative process and the timeline from commission to premiere – seven years in all.

John Corigliano at Home Frank J. Oteri interviews John Corigliano on many subjects, including the state of American music composition and production in 2004. Corigliano discusses how his opera Ghosts is in dialogue with – yet disrupts – the traditional opera canon.

Beaumarchais and the American Revolution This unclassified file from the Central Intelligence Agency illustrates how French playwright Beaumarchais (both a character in Ghosts and an inspiration for the piece) became an international spy. He helped encourage the French monarchy to intervene in the Revolutionary War on behalf of the colonies and ran a trading firm used as a cover in order to provide the Americans with French weapons.

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