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Los Angeles. Music Center. May 25, 2014. Jules Massenet (1842 – 1912) Thaïs, comédie lyrique in 3 acts and 7 tableaux, libretto by Louis Gallet. Stage Director : Nicola Raab. Sets and costumes : Johan Engels. Lighting : Linus Fellbom. Cast : Nino Machaidze, Thaïs; Plácido Domingo, Athanaël; Paul Groves, Nicias; Valentin Anikin, Palémon; Milena Kitic, Albine; Hae Ji Chang, Crobyle; Rebecca Nathanson, Myrtale. Los Angelès Opera Chorus, Director : Grant Gershon. Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, Conductor: Patrick Fournillier
At 72, the General Director of the Los Angeles Opera, is still, despite everything, a 10, in the vocal and dramatic “force of nature” category! The breath is slightly shorter, the timbre slightly less colored. The movements have slowed down a bit, but this Athanaël, ardent, impassioned, yet vulnerable, and that voice, spontaneous, generous, bronze, enhanced by that elegance, that noble phrasing– all of this grabs the listener and observer from the first notes…because to paraphrase Ernest Newman, who was referring to someone else, “He must be seen to be really heard.”
If you like your Thaïs strong, solid, vigorous, athletic (crossing the desert doesn’t bother her at all), then you will appreciate this powerful and profound interpretation by Nino Machaidze (the voice is, nevertheless, light and delicate in the upper register.) Dramatically, however, the acting is simplistic, inadequate, and requires improvement.
The excellent Nicias of Paul Groves, a presence, solid vocally, deftly avoids the traps and pitfalls of the role. Notable too are the fine Palémon of Valentin Anikin, as well as an excellent and convincing Albine (Milena Kitic), not forgetting the celebrated “Meditation,” in context, a true witness to the “transfiguration” of Thaïs (Roberto Cani, solo violin).
Nicola Raab’s dazzling production, because it literally dazzles you with its golds, crimsons and purples, is enchanting and persuasive. Johan Engels’ sets and costumes plunge us into a world of decorative panels, of posters by Orazi, of course, but also by Muchat or Chéret. In Act II, we are no longer in the realm of Thaïs but rather in that of Loti, the orientalist. Raab’s concept, a touch esoteric, does make us think: Who on earth are those men in top hats and tails in Act III?…and why the wedding gown at the end?…Is it to make us clearly understand that our courtisan has married Christ?… To remind us of Sanderson?
Patrick Fournillier succeeds in being sensual and modest, delicate and discreet, but also energetic and eloquent when necessary.
Photo credit: Thaïs © Robert Millard / LA Oper
Translated by Miriam Ellis