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
Most French operas from the middle of the 19-th century included ballets, as a lightweight intermezzo amidst the highly dramatic action of the opera. Jules Massenet was especially successful in the genre, and his ballet suites from his operas have surpassed the operas themselves in popularity. This CD contains the delightful and colourful suites from Le Cid,Thais and Cendrillon, evoking the atmosphere of the respective stories and fairytales of the operas.
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.