[Met Performance] CID:125070
Thaïs {40} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/10/1939.


Metropolitan Opera House
February 10, 1939

THAÏS {40}

Thaïs...................Helen Jepson
Athanaël................John Charles Thomas
Nicias..................Armand Tokatyan
Palémon.................Norman Cordon
Crobyle.................Marita Farell
Myrtale.................Lucielle Browning
Charmeuse...............Marisa Morel
Albine..................Anna Kaskas
Servant.................Wilfred Engelman
Cenobite................Nicholas Massue
Cenobite................Wilfred Engelman
Cenobite................Max Altglass
Cenobite................Arnold Gabor

Act II, Scene 2 Ballet - Feast of Nicias
1. L'Entree: Corps de Ballet
2. Danse athletique: Grant Mouradoff, George Chaffee, Corps de Ballet
3. Danse d'allure: Felia Dubrovska, Grant Mouradoff, George Chaffee, Corps de Ballet
4. Danse asiatique: Monna Montes, Lillian Moore, Corps de Ballet
5. Finale: Corps de Ballet

Conductor...............Wilfred Pelletier

Director................Herbert Graf
Set designer............Joseph Urban
Choreographer...........Boris Romanoff

Thaïs received seven performances this season.

Review of Lawrence Gilman in the New York Herald Tribune

When "Thais" was revived at the Metropolitan in the spacious days of the Jeritzan Age, the present deponent uttered a prophecy. He declared (in writing) that Massenet's "Thais" is a deathless work; for the excellent reason that it is sure of periodical revival so long as Nature continues to turn out babies who grow up to be beautiful opera stars with soprano voices and the ability to sing "Assieds-toi près de nous" with what the late Sir James Barrie, had he been an American and an opera-goer, might have called "the seven-dollar look."

Half a century has passed since that historic Spring day when Massenet packed up his music papers, his photographs of Sibyl Sanderson, and his beloved Angora tomcat, and left Paris for the seashore to finish the score of "Thais." Massenet and Sibyl and the Angora have long ceased to make music for mortal ears. But Massenet knew a good many things that mere geniuses do not always know, and he probably realized that he was banking on certainties when he made this ingenious bid for immortality. For while Nature takes its course, and the loveliness of woman fails not, nor her ability to sing above the staff before she dies of pernicious anemia in the last act, the names of Massenet and his "Thais" will continue to recur upon the operatic billboards of the world.

"Thais" survives - as predicted - and last night the solacing Miss Helen Jepson revived her at the Metropolitan, to the gentleman-like joy of all beholders and, let it be added, all listeners, too. Already "Thais" has outlasted the drums and tramplings of the '90s. She is already more than middle-aged-though you would never think so to look upon her present exponent at Mr. Johnson's Temple of the Muses.

After the amaranthine Sibyl had demonstrated Thais's latent spirituality to the Parisians, Massenet received a letter from Anatole France (upon whose novel the libretto of Louis Gallet was based), in which that irrepressible ironist declared: "You have lifted my, poor Thais to the first rank of operatic heroines. Yon are my sweetest glory. I am happy and proud at having furnished you with the theme from which you have developed the most inspiring phrases. I grasp your hand with joy."

It was on a November evening thirteen years later that the Rose of Alexandria that, transplanted from the Paris garden of Mary the Great, bloomed in the sight of all men upon the previously barren stage of Mr. Hammerstein's Manhattan Opera House on Thirty-fourth Street for the first time in America. And "Thais" has never really abandoned us since then. She may have seemed to do so, but she was only testing our fidelity

Of course, she has never lived again with the kindling veracity that Miss Garden gave her. But what would you? There has been only one Mary, and there never will be another. On that November night in 1907 when she first appeared upon a New York stage, lithe, slender, dazzling, indescribably vital and magnetic, as she entered, with long and sweeping strides, the presence of the adoring crowd, flinging her roses among them and greeting rapturously her waiting lover, she transformed the papier-mâché figure of Massenet and his librettist into a creation that will always haunt the minds of those who were present to observe it. This was one of the great entrances in the history of the stage. And this was Thais, authentic in grace, fascination, and reality. Since then Thais has walked among us, but she has never wholly come to life. This must be said. For that unrivaled and unforgettable embodiment is bound up indissolubly with Massenet's opera and no Thais of the present and the future can escape comparison with that superb achievement - which is a legend even for those who never witnessed it.

Of Miss Helen Jepson's Thais, set before us last evening for the first time, it may be said that it is visually lovely and engaging, gracious in aspect and pose and gesture. The youthful face, the youthful figure, gowned in red and gold, are those of an extraordinarily girlish Thais-and of a singularly naive one. This is, indeed, the only ingénue Thais who has visited our stage. Here was no radiant Priestess or Venus, triumphantly seductive in her beauty and her arts. This was a charming and innocent young girl who had found herself, by some mischance, wandering in the paphian ways of Alexandria. The embodiment is quite passionless, as is the habit with most American actresses who sing; and the most genuine and credible of the notes that it strikes is its note of pathos in the later scenes. The singing is agreeable; and almost unbelievably inexpressive. One would not have supposed that so little could be said, so little conveyed, by any human utterance.

As a whole the tone of the production was ingenuous. One thought, for the most part, of amateurs or of children elaborately at play. Mr. John Charles Thomas, the Athanael, is, of course, no child; but as a singing actor he appears to be, for the most part, unaware that Athanael is a character in a drama, with a good deal to express or to suggest. Mr. Thomas makes beautiful sounds with his voice. He does little else with it. He knows, for example, the conventional recipe for indicating grief, but one is not persuaded by the outcome.

You would scarcely guess that this lyric drama is, after all, the story of a monk who becomes a man and a courtesan who becomes a saint. Miss Jepson barely touches the rim of that conception, and Mr. Thomas seemed oddly unaware of the need for making evident and eloquent the burning intensity of the fanatical proselyte that shapes the drama at its start, nor the torment of the reawakened sensualist who should afterward be made to live and ache before us.

Mr. Tokatyan as Nicias contributed to the imaginative unreality of the proceedings. The production was solid and handsome-Mr. Urban's settings of the Jeritzan era, repaired by Josef Novak, served their purpose. And the damsels of the ballet who adorned the Feast of Nicias in the second act were suscitating to the eye.

Production photos of Thaïs and studio portraits by Wide World Studio.
Portrait of Helen Jepson in the title role Thais by Ben Pinchot.

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