********* CORIGLIANO: The Ghosts of Versailles (complete opera) ********* LA Opera – Pentatone (2)

At long last, a recording of one of the most important American operas – ever.

* CORIGLIANO: The Ghosts of Versailles (complete opera) – Victoria Livengood (Woman with hat)/ Kristinn Sigmundsson (Louis XVI)/ Scott Scully (Marquis)/ Christopher Maltman (Beaumarchais)/ Patricia Racette (Marie Antoinette)/ Lucas Meachem (Figaro)/ Lucy Schaufer (Susanna)/ Joshua Guerrero (Count Almaviva)/ Guanqun Yu (Rosina)/ Renée Rapier (Cherubino)/ Patti LuPone (Samira)/ LA Opera Orchestra & Chorus/ James Conlon – Pentatone American Operas multichannel SACD PTC5186538 (2 discs), 80:57, 74:37 [Distr. by Naxos] (4/8/16) *****:

Hard to fathom the fact that it has been 25 years since Ghosts so dramatically entered the scene. Conceived as a commission for the Met’s 100th anniversary, it was twelve years in the making and eight years past the deadline. The catalyst was James Levine, and the opening cast was a blazing fury of stars and up-and-coming stars. It was recorded on video and eventually released on DVD—no longer available except from some Amazon rip-off sites for two hundred bucks—and though there have been a fair amount of performances, most are of a scaled down version that does not reflect the original “Grand Opera Buffa” espoused by the composer.

So this release is something of a milestone, the very first recording of the piece ever, and one that the composer has given his imprimatur, and feels that the cast is every bit the equal of the original. I can’t attest to that since it has been years since I saw the DVD, but this one is certainly outstanding, especially the two “leads” of Christopher Maltman (Beaumarchais) and Patricia Racette (Marie Antoinette). The orchestra is obviously very well-drilled in the score, playing to perfection, with Pentatone’s use of Soundmirror—who seems to be recording everything everywhere these days—an inspired choice, resulting in a superb surround setup.

This is, as well as being a landmark issue, a marvelous opera, mixing buffa elements with a very large operatic experience. The plot, involving author Beaumarchais’s attempt to rewrite history and save his love, Marie Antoinette, from the guillotine, is ingenious in its mixture of past and present, bold and intimate, and the mechanics of change—revolutionary and/or nonviolent, shown in a mélange of smoke and ghostly mirrors—metaphorically speaking—make for an intriguing opera within an opera. The music, at once unsettling and nostalgically comforting, portrays these ideas with vivid communicativeness and exceptional warmth.

Don’t miss this one.

—Steven Ritter

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