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Concerts & Opera

Great and irresistible entertainment

01.03.2015


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Massenet's "Thaïs" arrives in Los Angeles Opera for the first  time, with superstar Placido Domingo as baritonal cenobite monk Athanaël, and world-renowned Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze as in title role. Thaïs is an exotic and erotic character that inflames desire in a monk who sets out to convert her from the worship of Eros to that of Christ. Lust, redemption and dreams are important parts in the story. Placido  Domingo was draped throughout in rags, while everyone else was splendidly attired, he nonetheless made himself the real focus of the opera.

Singing exclusively baritone rather than tenor parts in for the past few years now, the 73-year-old Domingo sounds even more at home in this lower register than he has previously. His legendary acting chops and his stage presence remain entirely undiminished. The sets are a mix of realism and surrealism. Massenet's ballet, which ends in a bacchanal, is cut. Machaidze's voice is grand-sized to match, not the more delicately precise inflection of a French soprano. She turns words into mush, but gorgeous, voluptuous mush.

One difficulty with the opera has always been that Athanaël has a too-easy time converting Thaïs. She looks in the mirror, worries about getting old. When the opera's famously sentimental "Meditation," for violin and orchestra, washes over her, she figures to leave the prostitution racket while she is ahead and purge herself of her sins. In this production, Thaïs seems to be more the actress disillusioned with theater and society than with sex.
The production was imported from Sweden's Gothenburg. Director Nicola Raab and scenery and costume designer Johan Engels have visually resituated the opera from ancient Alexandria into a belle epoque  setting, where sumptuous decadence reigns in the world that Thaïs initially resides in and a dead-souled desert surrounds the religious order later. Patrick Fournillier, a Massenet specialist, conducts with expressivity and tenor Paul Groves is a perfect Nicias. Great and irresistible entertainment. This “Thaïs” is a production to be seen and remembered.

Massimo Corsini
Los Angeles, 25.05.2014

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