"John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles pleased most critics when it opened at the Metropolitan Opera at the end of 1991. I wasn't among them; in a review for the New Republic I described the opera as "nowhere music," a miscellaneous pastiche of Romantic and modernist styles. I recently listened again to a recording of the work and found myself liking it a great deal more. Even if the composer's voice remains at times elusive, the craftsmanship and vitality of the writing make a powerful impression. St. Louis audiences may judge for themselves when a new, streamlined version of Ghosts opens at the Opera Theater of St. Louis on June 17.... "
The opera is set in the afterlife existence of the Versailles court of Louis XVI. In order to cheer up the ghost of Marie Antoinette, who is upset about having been beheaded, the ghost of the playwright Beaumarchais stages an opera (obviously based on La Mère coupable, although described by Beaumarchais as a new composition) using the characters and situations from his first two Figaro plays.
In this new opera-within-an-opera, Count Almaviva is in Paris as Ambassador from Spain. Together with his trusty manservant Figaro, he tries to rescue Marie Antoinette from the French Revolution. When things go awry, Beaumarchais himself enters the opera and — with the invaluable help of Figaro's wife Susanna — rescues the queen.
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.
Figaro returns only to defy Beaumarchais's intention that he returned 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.