The lush and evocative score is one of Massenet's most inspired. Fleming sounds simply ravishing.
The operas of Jules Massenet have been finding their way onto the stage and into the recording studio with increasing frequency in the last few years. Thaïs, a sensational flop during its day and now considered by some to be one the composer's masterpieces, makes an especially welcome return from relative obscurity. It was with Thaïs that Massenet achieved the naturalistic word setting technique that would influence subsequent French composers, including Debussy, Ravel, and Poulenc. The lush and evocative score (chiefly known for the beautiful Meditation interlude) is one of Massenet's most inspired.
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Thaïs, a courtesan in Alexandria, Egypt during the fourth century A.D., has grown weary of her empty and materialistic existence and longs for spiritual fulfillment. Athanaël, a monk who fled to the desert as a youth after being tempted by Thaïs, has returned to the city, determined to redeem her from her sinful ways. Thaïs follows Athanaël into the desert, where, with a group of nuns, she begins her life of penance, fasting, and solitude. Athanaël eventually realizes his love (and lust) for Thaïs is stronger than religious devotion, and returns to her just as she is dying, rapturously embracing the afterlife.
Thaïs' embodiment in the (vocal) form of soprano Renée Fleming (whose stunningly beautiful visage graces the box cover) will be the big draw for many. Okay, so it's highly unlikely that Thaïs had green eyes and auburn tresses, but Fleming sounds simply ravishing. This is a voice immediately recognizable for its golden timbre, lush warmth, and a clarion ring only partially conveyed by Decca's recording. However, the engineers do succeed in recreating the enchanted atmosphere of Thaïs' entrance at the end of Act 1 (C'est Thaïs, l'idole fragile), where Fleming stops the action, and our hearts, with tones that possess an almost unearthly radiance.
As Athanaël, Thomas Hampson is certainly stern and stoic (singing in fine, solid voice) but seems hard pressed to portray the character's barely hidden vulnerability. Giuseppe Sabbatini's bright, lyric tenor ideally suits Nicias' sophisticated party-boy character and wonderfully blends with Fleming's voice in their Act 1 duet. Stefano Palactchi imbues Palemon with wizened solemnity, and the other soloists perform admirably (amply supported by the Choeur de l'Opera de Bordeaux). The talented Yves Abel shapes the music beautifully and conducts an earnest if not always perfectly polished Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine. This marvelous production will satisfy both those who are tired of the standard operatic repertory, and those who prefer not to venture too far from it.
--Victor Carr, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Thaďsby Jules Massenet Performer:
Thomas Hampson (Baritone),
Giuseppe Sabbatini (Tenor),
Stefano Palatchi (Bass),
Renée Fleming (Soprano),
José Luis Victoria (),
Loďc Cassin (),
Bruno Moga (),
Bernard Mansencal (),
Olivier Schock (),
David Grousset (Baritone),
Enkelejda Shkosa (Mezzo Soprano),
Isabelle Cals (Mezzo Soprano),
Marie Devellereau (Soprano),
Elisabeth Vidal (Soprano),
Renaud Capuçon (Violin)
Bordeaux Aquitaine Orchestra,
Bordeaux Grand-Theatre Chorus
Period: Romantic Written: 1894; France Venue: Franklin Hall, Bordeaux, France Length: 146 Minutes 47 Secs. Language: French Notes: Franklin Hall, Bordeaux, France (1997 - 1998)
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
SuperbJanuary 19, 2014By Henry S. (Springfield, VA)See All My Reviews"Jules Massenet's tragic opera Thais is presented by Decca in a wonderful performance, featuring the fabulous work of the principals- Renee Fleming, Thomas Hampson, Giuseppe Sabbatini, and Stefano Palatchi. Equally outstanding is the lush orchestral score, played to perfection by the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine. Beyond the famous Meditation, the orchestral score splendidly develops recurring melodic themes, almost in Wagnerian fashion, to underwrite the plot's development. Massenet's libretto, based on a novel by Anatole France, tells the story of Thais (Fleming), an Egyptian prostitute, who experiences conversion and redemption through the inspiration of the monk Athenael (Hampson), whose stern, fundamentalist sense of morality is ultimately betrayed by the sensual attractions of Thais. This complex, evolving emotional journey, going in opposite directions for the principals, is the basis for some supremely beautiful singing and orchestral support. In short, Decca has produced a real winner with this outstanding recording. Try it and see for yourself. Highly recommended."Report Abuse