Notes and Editorial Reviews
This 1959 recording of Massenet’s Thaïs (1894) was once available on the imported Le Chante de Monde label and, as far as I know, it had limited American circulation. It was the second complete documentation of the opera, though the word “complete” is a total misnomer in this case. Both the preceding and following LP versions, Urania in 1952 and Westminster in 1961, were uniformly and rather needlessly cut. The portions eliminated—the ballet called “La charmeuse” and the entire second scene of act III—are by no means inferior, and the latter is essential to the opera’s plot. Length could hardly have been the reason: the complete opera is easily accommodated on two CDs, as the subsequent more recent editions have demonstrated. And all
three abbreviated recorded versions of this eminently French opera originated in Paris with all-French casts. Go figure! Adding to the insult is a brief narrative spoken over the orchestra’s interlude leading to the second scene of act I.
These serious reservations aside, there is much to praise in this historical issue. Above all, the role of conductor Albert Wolff, long a leading figure in French operatic life, who balances an unerring sense of forward motion with due emphasis on the opera’s sentimental elements. Andrée Esposito, not known to me earlier, reveals a limpid lyric soprano of youthful sound and an effortless command of the role’s considerable technical demands. After the movingly projected mirror aria, she brings great conviction to Thaïs’s transformation from a cynical sensualist to a devoutly spiritual being, does some exquisite pianissimos in the second act, and in the final oasis scene both she and baritone Massard outdo themselves. Massard, who was to repeat his Athanael two years later on the Westminster LP, may not possess a commanding tone, but everything he does is vocally right and dramatically persuasive. Jean Mollien is perfectly acceptable as the hedonistic Nicias—the textual curtailments deprive him of much expressive music, as they likewise limit other minor cast members except for Lucien Lovano, whose noble bass brings the proper priestly resonance to Palémon’s lines.
There have been sonically more impressive mono mementos of 1959, but Opera d’Oro’s sound is entirely acceptable, with forward presence on the voices. A brief synopsis is supplied, but there are no texts. This should be no one’s only representation of Thaïs. Among the complete versions, Decca 289 766 (with Renée Fleming, Thomas Hampson, and Giuseppe Sabbatini, Yves Abel conducting) is my preference. Colleague David L. Kirk gave a warm endorsement of a 2002 live Venice performance on Dynamic in 27:5, so that too deserves consideration.
George Jellinek, FANFARE Read less
Works on This Recording
Thaïs by Jules Massenet
Andree Esposito (Soprano),
Solange Michel (Mezzo Soprano),
Christiane Harbell (Soprano),
Jean Mollien (Tenor),
Andrée Gabriel (Mezzo Soprano),
Lucien Lovano (Bass),
Robert Massard (Baritone),
Hubert Cabane (Voice)
French National Radio Orchestra,
French National Radio Chorus
Written: 1894; France
Date of Recording: 1959
Length: 5 Minutes 19 Secs.
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