Set in Egypt, Massenet's drama 'Thais' (1894) traces the ill-fated attempt of the monk, Athanaël, to rescue the soul of the celebrated Alexandrian courtesan, Thaïs. Though she is presently living with his wealthy friend Nicias, Athanaël persuades her to renounce her way of life and riches, but as she dies in the desert in a state of grace, he realises he has succumbed to her worldly charms and begs God for mercy. Renée Fleming triumphs as the glamorous courtesan Thaïs in Massenet’s romantic tragedy set in fourth century Alexandria and the Egyptian desert. The timeless struggle between earthly desire and spiritual redemption finally destroys the resolve of the monk Athanaël (Thomas Hampson), just as the newly penitent Thaïs ascends heavenward. Jesús López-Cobos gives a masterly performance of Massenet’s sensuous score, with concert master David Chan contributing a ravishing ‘Méditation’.
The title role, in this excellent production, is sung by an Eva Mei in great vocal form, who gives an interpretation of extraordinary depth. Beside her, the famous bass-baritone Michele Pertusi, as Athanaël, shows once again his unquestionable style. On the podium is Marcello Viotti, music director of the Venetian theatre. The story of the conversion of the beautiful courtesan, and the clash between spirituality and sensuality have been portrayed brilliantly by Pier Luigi Pizzi, one of today’s most talented opera directors. The visual quality of this production is indeed one of its strong points, and the DVD recording will not fail to fascinate the viewer.
Mula is blessed with superb poise and wonderful assurance together with a tremendous ability to emotionally affect the listener.
Lyric-coloratura soprano Inva Mula has released an alluring recital of French and Italian arias for the Virgin Classics label. ‘Courtesan’ might be a more appropriate title for the disc as by my reckoning four of the heroine roles operate in that profession.
– Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International
Jules Massenet, who died 100 years ago in 1912, was a French composer best known for his operas, and was widely considered in his day to be one of the greatest melodists of his time, alongside Puccini.
Mendelssohn (1809-1847) is a perennially underrated composer who finally may be coming to greater appreciation. Certainly this fine recording (in English) of a masterpiece that he believed joined the Jewish faith of his fathers with his own Protestant Christianity should not hurt his reputation. The superb Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel gives a dramatically charged performance in the title role, while soprano Renee Fleming sings with beauty and limpid understanding; the cast is almost uniformly strong. The Edinburgh Festival Chorus, directed by David Jones, sings with care and conviction, and Paul Daniel conducts his forces firmly. –Sarah Bryan Miller.