My opera The Ghosts of Versailles takes place on three different planes of reality: (1) the world of eternity, inhabited by the ghosts of Versailles, including the playwright Beaumarchais and Marie Antoinette (2) the world of the stage, inhabited by the 18th century characters of Beaumarchais (Figaro, Susanna, the Count and Countess, etc.) and (3) the world of historic reality, primarily the reality of the French Revolution itself, populated by the characters of (1) and (2). Thus The Ghosts of Versailles represents a journey from the most fantastic to the most realistic.
The architecture of the three-hour opera is mirrored in microcosm in Phantasmagoria, which begins with spectral ghost music and a melodic fragment from Marie Antoinette’s first aria that reappears throughout the work. Sliding harmonics and cluster-chords create a liquid tableau behind this melody.
The world of the stage is highly stylized; as the characters would suggest, it is set in the world of 18th century opera buffa. This section of Phantasmagoria comprises parts of Figaro’s Act I aria and the many chase scenes that occur throughout the opera. Subliminal quotes from Mozart and Rossini (and even one from Wagner) are interspersed with rhythmically eccentric passages of great virtuosity for the orchestral players.
Throughout the work, the ghost music floats in and out, binding the other sections together. After the buffa reaches a climax (with of all things, the Tristan chord), we arrive at a setting of the septet (Quintet and Miserere) from Act II. This highly lyrical ensemble is set in the Conciergerie prison, and unites the Almaviva family (2) with Marie Antoinette (1) in the very real French Revolution (3).
The end of the septet flows into the ghost music, and Marie Antoinette’s melodic motto leads to a conclusion of of liquid repose.
– John Corigliano