Thaïs, live cinema screening from the Metropolitan Opera, New York, Dec 2008.

This was terrific. The production by John Cox, with lighting by Duane Schuler, was imported from the Lyric Opera in Chicago, where I saw it in December 2002, but here it looked much better. I think the stage designs have been improved, because I remember the desert scene in Chicago looking pretty shabby, whereas here it was cleanly stylized, and made a good effect. There were also wonderful new costumes for Thaïs designed by Christian Lacroix, and the designer’s name, which was Paul Brown in Chicago, was omitted so I suspect other changes were also made. As in Chicago, Renee Fleming was Thaïs, and Thomas Hampson was Athanaël. They were wonderful — she was glorious as a great courtesan, and as a convent sister in the desert, while he gave a strong portrayal of a repressed fundamentalist Christian, struggling to contain his own desires. Alain Vernhes sang the role of Palemon, head of the order of monks, doing a fine job vocally and with his stage presence, but I found Michael Schade disappointing as Nicias, the ex-monk and lover of Thaïs. He did not have the rich tenor of Joseph Calleja, who appeared in the concert performance at the Royal Opera in June 2007, and as an actor he was rather dull, apparently unmoved by the sexual allure of the great courtesan for whose favours he has sold valuable acres of land. She had to go it alone in that respect, only aided later by the simmering desires of Athanaël. Jesus Lopez-Cobos conducted with fine sensitivity, and the solo violin meditation was strongly and yearningly played by concert master David Chan, far better than the cloyingly weepy vibrato I heard in Chicago. These cinema screenings by the Metropolitan Opera cannot be as good as the real thing, of course, but by incorporating backstage information, such as details of the costumes, they do a superb job of bringing opera to the rest of the world. The Royal Opera’s pathetic attempt to do likewise, mentioned below, is simply embarrassing.

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