The Ghosts of Versailles: Director’s Note
By Colin Graham
This Director’s Note could easily be filled with historical observations such as Louis XVI’s passion for clocks and the march of science—the only interests he shared with Beaumarchais, the son of a clockmaker and formerly one himself—or the affinity between Beaumarchais and his creation and alter ego, Figaro, whose name derived from his creator’s sobriquet, “Fils Caron.” But there are weightier matters to consider.
For all who have compassion for those caught in the difficulties and tragedies of today’s way of life, who work in or enjoy the arts and rightly regard them as a gift to enhance life and enrich the soul, the subtext of this opera is of great significance: Without concern for others, there can be no resolution of your own problems or desires; without forgiveness there is no being forgiven; without self-sacrifice there can be no salvation.
Compassion, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice are achieved through love—not self-love but unselfish love of your fellows. This is intrinsic to this story of romantic love and to its characters on all three planes of existence: the temporarily unsatisfactory relationships “upstairs” of the Almavivas and the French royal family (and Beaumarchais), and the fulfilled “downstairs” partnership of Figaro and Susanna. Many of them, Marie Antoinette, Beaumarchais, Figaro, Almaviva, discover this and act upon it. Those who do not, like Begearss, who represents what Wilde called “the worst excesses of the French Revolution,” head for historical disaster and self- or public-destruction.
When Beaumarchais’s love and sacrifice open Marie Antoinette’s eyes to the truth, and to her love for him, she redeems not only herself but all those caught with her in the darkness. This has been achieved, she realizes, not only through his self-sacrifice, but through his art—art which brings insight as well as laughter, hope as well as tears.
Teresa Stratas as Marie Antoinette and Håkan Hagegård as Beaumarchais
The superficial world of opera buffa can often surprise its audience with its subtext: Whether the authors intended it or not—and with their past records of compassionate attitudes toward humanity, I cannot believe they did not intend it—The Ghosts of Versailles, too, is an allegory for our time.
It shares with the best of Shakespeare’s comedies, as well as Mozart’s operas, a wonderful and surprising volatility of movement between comedy and deeply serious matters which can cut like a sword and judge the thoughts and actions of us all. It exposes those who deserve to be exposed for the bigotry or hypocrisy of their selfishness, whether it be Figaro’s social prejudices, Almaviva’s guilty jealousy, or Marie Antoinette’s self pity and inability to forget or forgive. Beaumarchais’s new play conveys these sentiments both to his stage audience and to the audience in the real-life auditorium. At the same time our hearts are warmed by this story of romantic love, it shows compassion and offers hope to those who are left in this life to mourn. In comedy, there must be sincerity as well as delight, just as in death there is life and hope of better things to come.