[Met Performance] CID:352738
New Production
Tha´s {64} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/08/2008., Sirius Broadcast live
XM Broadcast live
Streamed at metopera.org

(Debuts: Alain Vernhes, Ginger Costa-Jackson, Zahra Hashemian, Sara Jo Slate

Metropolitan Opera House
December 8, 2008 Broadcast/Streamed

New Production

THA¤S {64}

Tha´s...................RenÚe Fleming
AthanaŰl................Thomas Hampson
Nicias..................Michael Schade
PalÚmon.................Alain Vernhes [Debut]
Crobyle.................Alyson Cambridge
Myrtale.................Ginger Costa-Jackson [Debut]
Charmeuse...............Leah Partridge
Albine..................Maria Zifchak
Guard...................Trevor Scheunemann
Solo Dancer.............Zahra Hashemian [Debut]
Cenobite Monks: Daniel Clark Smith, Roger Andrews,
Kurt Phinney, Richard Pearson, Marty Singleton

Violin solo: David Chan

Conductor...............Jes˙s Lˇpez-Cobos

Production..............John Cox
RenÚe Flemings costumes.Christian Lacroix
Lighting designer.......Duane Schuler
Choreographer...........Sara Jo Slate [Debut]

Tha´s received ten performances this season.

The production a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Sid R. Bass

Broadcast live on Sirius and XM Metropolitan Opera Radio
Streamed at metopera.org

The production is the property of the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Production photos of Tha´s by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Review of Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times

One Diva to Another: This Role is Divine

An opera company does not decide to mount a production of Massenet's "Tha´s and then look for a soprano to sing the title role. The only reason to produce this ultimate star vehicle today is that a company has a genuine star who wants to sing it.

At the Metropolitan Opera in 1978 that star was Beverly Sills. Now 30 years later, it is RenÚe Fleming, who appeared as Tha´s in the Met's new production on Monday night. Ms. Fleming justified the company's faith by delivering a vocally sumptuous and unabashedly show-stealing Tha´s. A glamorous courtesan in fourth-century Alexandria, Tha´s undergoes a spiritual transformation when confronted by an ascetic monk, AthanaŰl, whose fierce religiosity cannot contain his erotic desires.

For decades the opera has claimed only a marginal place in the standard repertory. So even with a soprano of Ms. Fleming's audience appeal, the Met was not about to mount its own production just for her. Instead it has imported a 2002 staging by John Cox from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, a high-camp affair with exotically ornate new costumes for Ms. Fleming designed for this occasion by Christian Lacroix. The baritone Thomas Hampson who sang AthanaŰl opposite Ms. Fleming in Chicago (and has recorded the opera with her), returns to the role here, and he was in top form.

First performed in Paris in 1894, "Tha´s" has not been taken that seriously in recent decades, despite Massenet's standing as the most influential opera composer in France for the last quarter of the 19th century. It is dismissed in some circles as a pseudospiritual, musically thin entertainment.

Yet with sensitive interpreters, which this performance, conducted with beautiful restraint by Jesus Lˇpez-Cobos, certainly had, Tha´s emerges an opera with passages of great elegance and subtlety. Massenet's melodic gift is in full furl. He spins an intricate web of interconnected motifs associated with characters and situations. It was fitting that the violinist David Chan, a Met orchestra concertmaster, took a solo bow onstage during the curtain calls for his beautifully refined playing of the solo melody in the popular "Meditation."

The libretto, adapted by Louis Gallet from a novel by Anatole France, tells of two lost souls crossing paths on opposite spiritual journeys. Tha´s is such a successful courtesan that to hire her services for just one week, Nicias, a rich Alexandrian (here the robust tenor Michael Schade), most sell a vineyard, a mill and some lands. AthanaŰl, who as a young man was nearly diverted from religious life by Tha´s's beauty, determines to salvage her soul. Yet as she slowly renounces her sinful life, he succumbs hopelessly to his erotic longing for her.

Ms. Fleming, who has always made deliberate decisions about repertory, has said that the role of Tha´s could have been written for her. Her performance proves her point. Though filled with lyrical flights to the upper register and some florid singing, which she handled beautifully, the vocal lines mostly hover in the soprano's midrange, where Ms. Fleming's sound is especially rich, sensual and strong.

In the early scenes, when Ms. Fleming's Tha´s, wearing curly golden locks, is flirtatious and tempestuous, the poignant colorings of her voice tinge her singing with sadness, lending ambiguity to her defiance. Later, when she turns as a supplicant to God, there are still elements of sensual longing in her singing, which again enhance the complexity of the portrayal.

But let's face it. "Tha´s" is a diva spectacle, and Ms. Fleming plays it to the hilt. In Scene 2, during a party at Nicias' well-appointed house, complete with solid-gold decorative palm trees, AthenaŰl appears, issuing apocalyptic threats to Tha´s, which Mr. Hampson sings chillingly. The guests ridicule the monk, forcing him to his knees and bedecking him with garlands in tribute to Venus. In the midst of a vocal outpouring, Ms. Fleming climbs a winding staircase just so she can deliver a triumphant high C from the top landing, then scurries back down to face the humiliated monk as the curtain falls.

In the scene most crucial to this drama of conversion, Ms. Fleming and Mr. Hampson are inspired. It takes place in a desert oasis near the convent of Albine. Tha´s, exhausted from traveling, her feet bleeding, can go no farther. AthanaŰl entrusts her to the care of the welcoming nuns. In a couple of impassioned outbursts Mr. Hampson pushed his voice worrisomely. But for the most part he sang with plaintive sound and sensitive lyricism.

It was a tribute to their compelling work together that the audience did not titter during the melodramatic staging of the final scene. Instead of seeing Thais on her deathbed at the convent, we see her already arrayed as a saint, sitting in a thronelike chair atop an altar looking beatific, as AthanaŰl collapses in anguish.

Anything goes in staging "Tha´s." On Saturday afternoon, while working at home, I was listening to the Met radio broadcast of Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" and then switched to a recording of "Thais." The contrast was stunning "Where's the Music?" I wondered. "Something's missing."

But what a star vehicle for the invaluable Ms. Fleming.

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