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Massenet: Thais [DVD]  
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Thaïs, a mature work by the composer Jules Massenet on the libretto by Louis Gallet, it is based on the novel of the same name by Anatole France. The new production of this rarely performed work is the result of more than a year of close collaboration between the forces of the Theatre and Stefano Poda, responsible, for the first time in Italy, for the direction, choreography, sets, lighting and costumes. On the podium, Gianandrea Noseda, who, seduced by the dramatic force and modernity of the orchestral writing, conducts Thaïs for the first time; a debut also for the protagonist Barbara Frittoli, who has chosen the Regio to make her debut in this difficult role. Georgian baritone Lado Ataneli gives an impressive study of the monk Athanaël. Purified of the anticlerical excesses of Anatole France's original novel, the libretto by Louis Gallet retains the sensual charge, and above all, the irony which, though remaining underplayed, contributes to keeping alive a subject that has possible references to the contemporary world. The taste for the orient that characterised French culture during the nineteenth century had become, by the end on the century, a truly dominant theme in literature, painting and theatre. In Thaïs, which had its debut in 1894, exoticism becomes the vehicle of a trend which is explicitly decadent, containing themes typical of fin-de-siècle art, i.e. the contrast between sacred and profane, transgression and the figure of the femme fatale. The story, which stands out against the background of Alessandria in Egypt in all its opulence and refinement, culture and indolence, presents us with the crossed destinies of Athanaël, a Cenobite monk whose missionary zeal borders on fanaticism, and Thaïs, a famous courtesan who, worried about the transience of her beauty, lets herself be convinced to search immortality in the love of God.
''Both Frittoli, making her debut as Thais, and Gianandrea Noseda, conducting the opera for the first time, give it everything and there is impressive support from the Georgian baritone Lado Ataneli.'' --Opera Now
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Top Customer Reviews
Barbara Frittoli sings beautifully. Her spinto voice has many colors and she uses them skillfully. Indeed it is her musical participation that contributes most to whatever satisfaction one derives from the production.Read more ›
But the director of this production has seized upon this very aspect and created a work of most staggering beauty.
My wife and I not infrequently visit a European city to take in an opera as part of our short break. Had we gone specially to Turin to see this production we would have considered the cost well worth it.
I most wholeheartedly recommend it.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Barbara Frittoli sings beautifully. Her spinto voice has many colors and she uses them skillfully. Indeed it is her musical participation that contributes most to whatever satisfaction one derives from the production. The Georgian bass-baritone, Lado Ataneli, certainly looks the part but his performance is rather colorless and uninflected; there is little passion in the last act. (One is struck that Ataneli's surname is so similar to that of his character, Athanäel. I wonder if that has anything to do with his having learned the part?) Tenor Alessandro Liberatore sings a fine Nicias. Choreography was also by Poda and it was both dull and intrusive; for instance, the score clearly indicates that the famous 'Meditation', marked 'religious', is to be played in front of the curtain. Instead the stage is filled with dancers doing nothing special nor specially religious. Gianandrea Noseda is in the pit and leads a slowish but nicely nuanced performance.
I have not seen the DVD of Thaïs starring Eva Mei, a soprano whose acidulous voice I cannot endure; I gather that production has not been much admired by others. And as far as I know that one and this production are the only DVDs of Thaïs available. In the meantime stick with the audio recording of the opera with Renée Fleming and Thomas Hampson, and hope that the Met's fine production of 2008 (with Fleming) makes it to DVD.
Total time: 139mins; Sound: PCM stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1; Subtitles: French, English, German, Italian, Spanish; Format: 16:9; Region code: 0 (worldwide)
We don't see Thais much any more, so it's a great pleasure to now have two of them on the DVD market. I'm sure that in my family we'll be watching Poda's production over and over again. If the Met produces a new production with Fleming, I'm sure it'll be a different interpretation than Poda's production. That will be wonderful - after all we do welcome different interpretations of our old favorite operas. I might or might not prefer it to Poda's interpretation, but that will not dull my enthusiasm for this production. I think I can highly recommend this production to anyone who enjoys new interpretations, beautiful dancing, great singing and would like to own a wonderful DVD of Thais.
The movement in Thais is wonderful. I had longed for a director to virtually abandon everyday ways of moving in favor of slow, ceremonial, and symbolic motion, and here we have that, beautifully executed both by the principles, the chorus, and the dancers. It seems to me that other operas which are almost always staged in a much more realistic manner would benefit from this sort of creativity. The bareness of the dancers (or the "movement chorus"?) is so pervasive and well-conceived that it becomes commonplace rather than startling, and works not as the rather common tease seen in many productions with a bit of nudity, but as a meaningful aspect of the production.
Finally, the singing and playing was very good. Once we settled into the style and aims of the production, we decided that the casting choices were excellent.
If you have ever enjoyed any non-traditional production, you might well enjoy this one as much as we did.
It is unusual to find French opera performed in Italy; in the "bad" old days it would have been sung in the vernacular. It is also unusual to find Thais without a soprano who possesses the requisite vocal glamour and physical allure to pull of what is really a silly role. Frittoli does not fill the bill. To hear how the voice has deteriorated one only has to listen to a Cosi Fan Tutte from Vienna taped around 1996, available on a Medici Arts label. I take no pleasure in writing this. Ataneli is the only singer who realizes that the text is in French. Amazing for an artist from Georgia. Nicias is a thankless role and the tenor Alessendro Liberatore doesn't make one wish that Massenet had made more of the role.
Will the Met production make it to DVD? I surely hope so. The mise-en-scene is no more evocative of the period but at least it isn't as goofy as what was offered in Turin. Needless to say the singing is far superior (Ateneli excepted).