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’.
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.
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
In the latter twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Itzhak Perlman has been acclaimed as being among the leading violinists before the public, and, without doubt, has been the most visible of them in media venues, from recordings and radio broadcasts to television and film appearances. No other concert violinist and few other serious musicians have achieved the widespread exposure and popularity attained by Perlman.
This Renée Fleming disc, By Request, is mostly a compilation of previously released material. There are three new tracks, "Ah fors' è lui" from Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata, the song "Cäcille" by Richard Strauss, and "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Rogers & Hammerstein's musical Carousel. The new recordings all sound fine, and Fleming is outstanding in the re-issued pieces as well. If you have the prior incarnations of these recordings, you may elect to pass on this collection unless you want the three new tracks.
This stunning and generous collection belongs right at the top of the heap in its respective repertoire. The Debussy is still a comparative rarity in concert if not on disc, a remarkable fact given that it's wholly gorgeous from first note to last. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's excellence as a Debussy pianist already has been acknowledged by just about everyone who has heard him, and needs no further advertisement here. The performance is outstanding, sensitive to every nuance, but also very French in its clear-eyed sensibility and understanding that focused rhythm and supple tempos prevent the music from turning excessively sentimental or blandly pretty. And in Tortelier, Bavouzet has a conductor who seconds him every step of the way. A similar sensibility informs these swift, razor-sharp, and utterly thrilling accounts of the two Ravel concertos. That for the left hand seldom has sounded so exciting, or in its jazzy central march section, so sinister. Listen to the bite that both soloist and orchestra bring to that descending scale theme, and notice the way Bavouzet shapes his cadenza so as to preserve the illusion of multiple parts played by multiple hands–all without slowing down at the tough passages. It's really an amazing performance by any standard. Even the dark opening, often merely murky on other recordings, has shape and urgency, the buildup to the initial entry of the piano creating incredible tension.
International superstars Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón give inspired performances in Massenet's passionate opera, Manon. Netrebko gives full range to her abilities as a singer and actress in portraying innocence, lust, greed and, above all, beauty. It is Netrebko's mesmerizing performance which makes Villazón's youthful passion and ultimate despair even more authentic and heart-breaking. The setting in this production has been updated to the 1950s and the entire opera takes place as if Manon were the star of her own film. Indeed, Netrebko transforms her character from the innocence of Audrey Hepburn through the voluptuousness of Marilyn Monroe into the tragedy of Ingrid Bergman. The work of director Vincent Paterson, known for his work on Broadway and in music videos, is especially effective in creating an energetic and ultimately tragic performance with stunning visual splendor. Netrebko and Villazón, the true dream-team for this opera, are joined by the conductor Daniel Barenboim who leads the Staatskapelle Berlin in a spontaneous and passionate performance.