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John Corigliano

Publisher: G. Schirmer

The Ghosts of Versailles (1991),
Text Writer
Libretto by William M. Hoffman suggested by Beaumarchais’ “La Mère coupable.”
G Schirmer Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Year Composed
2 Hours 50 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Cast: principals = 4S, Mz, A, 4T, 2Bar, 2B, associates = 2Mz, Bar(speaking role), B, ensemble = 4S, 2Mz, 2T, 2Bar, B
Alternate Orchestration
2(2pic).2(ca).2(Ebcl,bcl).2(cbn)/2220/timp(perc).3perc/hp,pf(cel).synth/str ( players)
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Programme Note
John Corigliano The Ghosts of Versailles (1991),

William M. Hoffman suggested by Beaumarchais' "La Mère coupable."

About the orchestra and cast:
The original production included ensembles onstage:
  • players = hpd, man, gtr, hp, vn, va, 3vc, 2db
  • rheita band (Act I Scene 5) = ob, 2perc
  • ball orchestra (Act II, scene 5) = fl, vn, va, vc
  • marchers = 2hn, [opt 2tpt, perc]
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synthesizer setup and performance guidelines
Acrobat format
In both the full and reduced orchestrations, the parts for these players have now been incorporated into the pit orchestra parts..

Major productions to date, including the premiere, cast more singers than are actually required by the list of major and supporting roles. The opera requires only a minimum of twenty-eight performers to fulfill its casting requirements.

Principals: 14
soloists playing one role only
   FLORESTINE - High Lyric or Coloratura Soprano
   MARIE ANTOINETTE - Lyric or Lirico-spinto Soprano
   ROSINA - Lyric Soprano
   SUSANNA - Mezzo-soprano (or Mezzo-contralto)
   ALMAVIVA - Lyric Tenor
   LÉON - Lyric Tenor
   BEAUMARCHAIS - High Lyric Baritone
   FIGARO - Lyric Baritone
   LOUIS XVI - Bass
   GHOST QUARTET - Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass

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Associate Principals: 4
soloists playing one main role among other supporting roles
   CHERUBINO - High Lyric Mezzo-soprano
      also plays
      Figaro Pursuer 5/Turkish Embassy Pursuer 6/Revolutionary Woman 5
   SAMIRA - Mezzo-soprano
      also plays
      Figaro Pursuer 6/Revolutionary Woman 6
   WILHELM - Baritone and spoken part
      also plays
      Other Man (Fig. Pursuer 9)/ (T.E. Pursuer 10)/Juror 2/Finale Pursuer 10
   SULEYMAN PASHA - Basso Profundo
      also plays
      Muscovite 3/Juror 4/Prisoner 1/Finale Pursuer 12

Ensemble: 10
soloists playing multiple supporting roles
   4 Soprano
   2 Mezzo-soprano
   2 Tenor
   2 Baritone
      Pursuers of Figaro, Turkish duelists, page, dancing and harem girls,
      "rheita" players, acrobats, revolutionary guards, revolutionary women,
      courtiers, dancers, prison guards, prisoners, soldiers.
For information about an Opera-in-Concert version of The Ghosts of Versailles with projections by Jerome Sirlin click here

The following vocal selections from Ghosts of Versailles are available for purchase:


Act I
The ghosts of the court of Louis XVI arrive at the theatre of Versailles. Bored and listless, even the King is uninterested when Beaumarchais arrives and declares his love for the Queen. As Marie Antoinette is too haunted by her execution to reciprocate his love, Beaumarchais announces his intention to change her fate through the plot of his new opera 'A Figaro for Antonia.'

The cast of the opera-within-the-opera is introduced. Following the familiar escapades of the Figaro characters, Almaviva has divorced the Countess after she had a son, Leon, with Cherubino. Leon wants to marry Florestine, Almaviva's illegitimate daughter, but the Count has forbidden the union as retribution for his wife's infidelity and has promised Florestine instead to Bégearss.

Figaro enrages the Count by warning him that his trusted Bégearss is in fact a revolutionary spy. Figaro is fired, but overhears Bégearss and his servant Wilhelm hatching a plot to arrest the Count that evening at the Turkish Embassy when he sells the Queen's necklace to the English Ambassador. Figaro intercepts the plot by infiltrating the party, dressed as a dancing girl. During the outrageous performance of the Turkish singer Samira, Figaro steals the necklace from the Count before the sale can take place, and runs away.

Act II
Figaro returns only to defy Beaumarchais's intention that he return the necklace to the queen, as he wants to sell it to help the Almavivas escape. To put the story back on course, Beaumarchais enters the opera and shocks Figaro into submission by allowing him to witness the unfair trial of Marie.

The Count, swayed by his wife's wishes, rescinds his offer to Bégearss of his daughter's hand. Even though Figaro gives him the necklace, Bégearrs is enraged and sends the Spaniards to the prison where Marie Antoinette lingers.

Beaumarchais and Figaro, the only two to escape, arrive at the prison to try to rescue the Almavivas. They are shortly followed by Bérgeass whom Figaro denounces to the revolutionaries, revealing that he has kept the necklace rather than using it to feed the poor. Bégearss is carried off, the Almavivas escape to America and Beaumarchais is left with the keys to the Queen's cell. But the power of his love has made the Queen accept her fate and she refuses to let Beaumarchais alter the course of history. Marie is executed, and the pair is united in Paradise.

Composer Note:

Ghosts Returns

For many years after the glorious premiere of The Ghosts of Versailles, I have always felt that my opera was haunted by its spectacular production. People associated it with Prokofiev’s War and Peace — a work that could not exist without the grandest and most expensive mounting. So, like War and Peace, most opera houses thought The Ghosts of Versailles almost impossible to produce.

My collaborator, William Hoffman, and I always felt that the opera would benefit from being seen through a closer lens. A more economical production and casting scheme would focus the audience on the true nature of the work: that is, that while The Ghosts is, in part, an entertaining buffa, it is also a serious meditation on history and change: specifically, on how change comes about both in politics and in art. Mid-century modernists at their most fundamentalist demanded that we destroy, not merely rethink, the past to forge a new future: a demand of which the guillotine makes a terrible and perfect symbol. But our view of art was that change could come by embracing the past (the opposed worlds of the commoner Beaumarchais and the regal Marie Antoinette) and moving into the future (as did that couple, finally united, in our opera.)

The terrible World Wars that fired the angst and destruction that obsessed the Modernists have been replaced by a more evolutionary view of change. Leningrad has become St. Petersburg again without a shot being fired. Musicians and artists in the 21st century are no longer chained to the severe and limited point of view of the 20th century, despite the antique views of some living musicians and artists of the past.

Perhaps this message will be clearer in this new version. The Met’s introduction of The Ghosts of Versailles was one of the high points of my artistic life. Still, this smaller, focused production may demonstrate — as well as its practicality — more of what the work itself has to say. I can hardly wait.

— John Corigliano
May, 2009

Ghosts of Versailles, Act 2; full score

Ghosts of Versailles, Act 1; reduced orchestration

Ghosts of Versailles, Act 2; reduced orchestration

  • Ensemble
    Metropolitan Opera
    Teresa Stratas / Renée Fleming / Tracy Dahl / Stella Zambalis / Judith Christin / Marilyn Horne / Jane Shaulis / Graham Clark / Peter Kazaras / Neil Rosenshein / Richard Drews / Gino Quilico / Håkan Hagegard / James Courtney / Ara Berbarian / Wilbur Pauley
    James Levine
    Deutsche Grammophon:
  • Ensemble
    Los Angeles Opera
    Patricia Racette / Christopher Maltman / Kristinn Sigmundsson / Joshua Guerrero
    James Conlon
At long last, a recording of one of the most important American operas – ever...

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, Audiophile Audition,01/09/2016
The Ghosts of Versailles is far more of a sentimental fantasy than a political satire, and several of its most affecting — and effective — musical parts are the romantic duets and solo arias…Composer Corigliano blends Romantic classical tradition with more modern sounds, such as the eerie chimes and disembodied, jackal-like choral voices that signify the ghost world.
Falling James, LA Weekly,10/02/2015
Corigliano’s music is like a fragrant bouquet: wisps of Neoclassical, ethereal melodies interspersed with Modernist dissonances, hints of Mozart and Rossini mingled with Richard Strauss. The score is layered and complex yet approachable and moving. Corigliano even conjures Gilbert and Sullivan in Figaro’s Act I aria.
Jane Rosenburg, Seen and Heard International,09/02/2015
It's comic and serious, entertaining and erudite, silly and thoughtful, emotional and mysterious, harrowing and uplifting, intimate and over-the-top — and the more times you see it, the more you'll find in it and the more you'll get out of it.
Richard S. Ginell, Los Angeles Times,08/02/2015
Before "Ghosts of Versailles," patrons at the Met weren't excited about new opera. After "Ghosts" they were…The Ghosts of Versailles” changed the dynamic of opera in this country. Suddenly it became desirable to commission contemporary work.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Culture Monster,05/02/2015
"Like minimalism, neo-romanticism is a facile and not entirely accurate label. It’s often applied, for instance, to John Corigliano, who writes well for orchestra and with an acute sense of the past — his 1991 opera “The Ghosts of Versailles” is one of the best syntheses of the grand opera tradition and contemporary music that anyone’s managed to come up with — but whose sensibility, sound, and sophistication are firmly rooted in the present."
Anne Midgette, The Washington Post,19/08/2011
...Stratas blooms amid the confrontational social commentary of Mahagonny but is at her best in John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles. Stratas plays one of the ghosts - Marie Antoinette - alongside a great cast, including a wildly comic Marilyn Horne and a young (and fleshy) Renée Fleming. In this sophisticated mélange of operatic manners, Mozartean and modern, centuries of opera come together - along with two generations of singers. It's the grandest of operas. If anyone ever wonders what was great about the Levine era, this video has it all.
David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer,11/12/2010
Corigliano's score, expansive in aria and ensemble and brilliant in orchestral colour, is awash with parody from Mozart and Rossini to the post-Romantics of Europe and America.
Pat O'Kelly, The Independant (Ireland),23/10/2009
June 18 2009 “The Ghosts of Versailles” commands a special place in this season’s history and the history of the company overall. This opera, brought to the stage Wednesday evening (June 17), rocketed luminously above all this season's shows. In fact, it is an achievement beyond anything the company has produced since 1982, when Jonathan Miller and Calvin Simmons conjured a “Cosi fan tutte” that is not only indelible in the memory, but also an artistic organism to be summoned up and seen and heard as if it had been performed only yesterday, rather than a quarter century ago. How is such quality achieved? Difficult to say, and if one could figure it out and explain it, all operas would share the greatness of that long-ago “Cosi” and Wednesday’s “The Ghosts of Versailles.” My supposition is, bringing such a triumph to the stage requires a willingness to take enormous risks – to perform acts of cultural terrorism, as N.Y. Times critic Edward Rothstein said of this opera’s creators. Then, everyone from the general director to the technical staff must share a profound understanding of the necessity of bringing together all the elements of the form in a delicate, difficult-to-achieve equilibrium. All of this, the light, the sounds, the music, the singing, the rustle of fabric, the glint of swords, pauses, dances, each singer's understanding of her or his place in the show and of his or her character in the universe, the décor and the stage properties, commitment – everything must be come together, and fit together precisely in the operatic puzzle. …The original production of “The Ghosts of Versailles” at the Metropolitan Opera in 1991 was staggeringly grand in terms of singers, stage personnel, chorus and instrumentalists, as well as technology. The late Colin Graham, for many years artistic director of Opera Theatre, was its Merlin, and from all reports, of those in attendance at the Met or at home with their televisions, the opera packed the force of revelation. The St. Louis production, by necessity, has been scaled down. It doesn’t seem to matter, however. Less, as we have learned over time, often really is more. …one is mesmerized by the seamlessness of the movement along the surface of the strip. And why is that? Because composer John Corigliano and playwright William T. Hoffman, and, apparently, everyone involved in the St. Louis production embraced risk and achieved the grand synthesis, the vast, complex, thrilling congregation of light and shadow, the sounds and silences the stillnesses and the movement, the music, the set and costumes and props. All this is pieced together seamlessly, with clear indications of human frailty and frivolity, along with grief and foolishness, with an awareness of misbehavior on a grand scale, with the obligation to both confess and to forgive, and always, always to hope and to pray for some sort of redemption. To this, Corigliano and Hoffman and the St. Louis company brought an additional element, and that is poetry, which is to say, magic. And therein dwells the success, and the brilliance, of this magnificent show.
Robert W. Duffy, St. Louis Beacon,18/06/2009
A triumph with the public, a success with the New York press, and a sell-out at the box office...It is heartening to find a new opera greeted with a standing ovation.
Andrew Porter, Times (London),01/01/0001
...the hottest ticket in New York. In an era when contemporary operas have usually been received with polite indifference. . . the response to Ghosts bespoke an audience's gratitude at discovering an opera it could actually like.
Barrymore Scherer, Gramaphone,01/01/0001
The opera was an all-around triumph...the pathos here is exquisite.
David Patrick Stearns, The Independent (London),01/01/0001
Everything works...Corigliano's English prosody enables four thousand people to understand just about everything sung on stage. . . New York audiences adored it.
Martin Mayer, Opera (London),01/01/0001
A hit...effective and, above all, singable. Diverting and spectacular.
Martha Duffy, Time,01/01/0001
Opera history was made at the premiere of "The Ghosts of Versailles." Audiences normally skeptical of non-mainstream work gave Corigliano and Hoffman the evening's greatest ovation. That alone proves that a fine, new contemporary opera can be far more exciting than the most spectacular Aida. . . With the help of Hoffman's wise, witty libretto, the composer achieves moments as passionate and moving as any in Puccini, but with a spirituality that makes The Ghosts of Versailles more exalted.
David Patrick Stearns, USA Today,01/01/0001
"Ghosts" one of the major musical events of the year and possibly the '90's...
Joseph McLellan, The Washington Post,01/01/0001
...audiences went nuts...Let's put to bed forever the old canard that opera in English doesn't work because nobody understands the words anyway. . . the Met audiences' enthusiasm for Ghosts was that the words contributed to their understanding and enjoyment. . . the Met has a hit on its hands.
Erik Neher, Opera Monthly,01/01/0001
A work of genius that stands a good chance of surviving for decades, perhaps centuries to come.
Robert Croan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,01/01/0001
This was a real event...I am convinced that The Ghosts of Versailles is as intriguing as it is well-crafted. It is likely to find a permanent place in the annals. . .
James Wierzbicki, St. Louis Post-Dispatch,01/01/0001
..."The Ghosts of Versailles" has brought forth a towering achievement...Corigliano has the Italians' innate genius for devising music to ennoble the human voice.
Alan Rich, L.A. Weekly,01/01/0001
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