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The Ghosts of Versailles

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I must confess upfront that I am the target audience for The Ghosts of Versailles. William Hoffman’s intricate and clever libretto mixes historical figures with familiar fictional characters in a spectacular, Stoppardian, meta-theatrical circus act which manages, against all odds, to work on every level. John Corigliano’s inspired score walks its own tightrope of pastiche, send-up, and delicately nuanced, but always accessible postmodern sound. I have loved the opera since its 1991 Met premiere and found myself as excited as the proverbial kid in the candy shop to finally see a live production.

Hoffman’s conceit is that the ghost of Marie Antoinette (Patricia Racette) and her court haunt the palace of Versailles. Beaumarchais (Christopher Maltman), the playwright of the three Figaro plays which include "Barber of Seville" and "Marriage of Figaro," is in love with the Queen. In order to divert her, he puts on an opera based on his third, rarely performed, Figaro play, "The Guilty Mother." He assures her that his words can alter history, saving her from the guillotine and allowing her to escape with him to Philadelphia. (Which brings one of the biggest laughs in the evening). Figaro (Lucas Meachem), Susanna (Lucy Schaufer), Rosina (Guanqun Yu) and the Count (Joshua Gurerrero) take the stage and perform for their ghostly audience. But Figaro becomes infused with the revolutionary spirit of the time and decides to thwart Beaumarchais’ plan to save the Queen by improvising another ending. Beaumarchais, unable to control Figaro, enters the world of the opera to set things right.

If this thumbnail sketch sounds overly complex or extremely serious, the opera is neither. Director Darko Tresnjak does a masterful job of keeping the separate worlds and the many narrative strands clearly defined. And, as the director of the Tony Award winning A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Tresnjak is well equipped to mine humor from murderous deeds.

LA Opera’s production is sumptuous and wonderfully detailed. It compares quite favorably with the epic opulence of the original. Tresnjak has brought along most of his scenic designers from Gentleman’s Guide and the results are dazzling. Alexander Dodge’s beautiful Baroque theatre has just a hint of distortion to remind us that this is a congregating place for spirits, while Aaron Rhyne’s ingenious projections subtly enhance the proceedings. Linda Cho’s intelligent costume designs serve character as much as beauty.

The cast for Ghosts is as massive as the production elements, but the casting is impeccable, and all display admirable diction. Patricia Racette’s Marie Antoinette is poignantly sung, without ever losing her regal command. Maltman brings a canny charm to Beaumarchais but displays true ardor in his devotion to the Queen. Lucas Meachem’s Figaro is an unqualified delight, whether tossing off his Rossini-like patter or invading the first-act finale in drag. Guanqun Yu and Lucy Schaufer make their moments count, and their duet is one of the glories of the production. Joshua Guerrero is an understandably perplexed Count, while Robert Brubaker’s Begearss delights in his villainous plans to foil Beaumarchais’ rescue scheme. The opera is not concerned with conventional love, but Brenton Ryan and Stacey Tappan, as Leon and Florestine, ably portray that element. Broadway star, Patti Lupone, returns to LA Opera in the guest star set piece originally written for Marilyn Horne. However, MS Lupone, astride a pink elephant, makes the role entirely her own.

Ghosts of Versailles is a not-to-be-missed theatrical event.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.