Renée and her frocks

John Cox’s production of Massenet’s Thaïs at the Metropolitan Opera is probably most remembered for the rather extraordinary collection of Christian Lacroix frocks that Met perennial Renée Fleming gets to wear.  It’s rather more than that.  In fact it’s a pretty good example of what the Met does best.  It’s sumptuous and spectacular and has a pretty much ideal cast which, together, go a long way toward making this curious piece rather enjoyable.

1.athanealThe plot of Thaïs is a part of the problem.  In brief, Cenobite monk Athanaël leaves his desert monastery to “rescue” courtesan Thaïs from a life of sin, in the process destroying her palace (no doubt full of priceless works of art).   Thaïs promptly mortifies her flesh and dies while early Christianity’s answer to the Taliban has a crisis of faith.  And the moral of the story is?  I have no idea so it’s perhaps best to just lie back and soak up the sumptuosity.

2.nicias_thaisThis production is very pretty to look at.  The scene has been shifted from the 3rd or 4th century to a sort of fin de siècle Alexandria.  It’s bright and bold (for the most part).  Renée looks fabulous and there is plenty more eye candy in the form of Ginger Costa-Jackson and Alyson Cambridge.  Tom Hampson makes a very convincing grubby monk and Michael Schade is perfect as the playboy Nicias.  The singing is first class and Jesús López-Cobos produces a suitably opulent sound from the Met orchestra.

3.desertThe DVD is taken from one of the early Met HD broadcasts and picture and sound quality are really pretty good.  One can tell how old this is because in the intro Placido Domingo bemoans the fact that he can’t sing Athanaël because he’s not a baritone.  Video direction is by Gary Halvorson and it’s typical of his work though far from the most egregious example.  Really there are just rather too many close ups.  It is a bit odd though that he chooses to show Renée wandering around backstage during the meditation (very well played by David Chan).  Bonus material is the usual Met broadcast rather unenlightening interviews.  The booklet has a track listing  and a generic essay on the work.  Subtitle options are English, French, German, Spanish and Chinese.

4.deathAll in all this is rather enjoyable in a “guilty pleasures” sort of way.

2 thoughts on “Renée and her frocks

  1. John, were you off your meds when you watched this. I think Thais is one of (if not the worst) operas in or on the fringes of the standard rep. I thought (aside from Renee’s costumes–she really does look great) the sets and costumes looked like something from an old Hope-Crosby On The Road movie. Apparently the Met also felt this way since the only production credits in the program (and in the Met’s archive) are for Lacroix. I don’t know why I went to see this in the first place and why I stayed till the end. The performance is very good. A waste of a lot of talented singers at or near their prime. By the way as for PD I have always felt that tenor minus high notes does not equal baritone.

    • Basically I agree with you about Thais as a piece. It really is pretty rubbish though with some nice tunes in a middlebrow sort of way. Maybe i was overinfluenced by having had to review a semi-staged version last season. Trust me, the Met thing may be a bit overblown but it’s a vast improvement on that one. For the record, the production was rented from Chicago Lyric and I believe John Cox was responsible though he didn’t direct the Met performances.

      I’m far from suggesting this is great art but it does make a change from my usual diet of Regie productions of Peter Grimes and Wozzeck. Also I like Michael Schade’s dressing gown which is way snazzier than the one he wore in Clemenza di Tito.

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