Sunday, December 28, 2008

Was it Utterly Shamless Diva Worship? Yessss. Do I Regret a Minute of it? Noooo.

by Jules Massenet
December 27th, 2008

Conducted by Jesus Lopez-Cobos
Thais- Renee Fleming
Athanael- Thomas Hampson
Nicias- Michael Schade
Palemon- Alain Vernhes
Albine- Maria Zifchak
Crobyle/Myrtale- Alyson Cambridge/Ginger Costa-Jackson
Violin Solo- David Chan

I think the whole point of putting on a production like Thais is so that the audience can bask in the glory of a diva and worship her 'til night is done. In fact, I know that the only point of showing a rarely seen diva-mobile is to show off an opera house's most venerated soprano.

Renee Fleming herself seemed to rise to the occasion and delivered a beautiful and rich interpretation of this saintly courtesan. My one fear of the evening was that she wouldn't make the high note at the end of "Je suis seul", but how foolish of me! She of course sang the note perfectly, along with the rest of the gorgeous aria. While she might need some more lessons in "seductive dancing", as it were, Renee needs no help in playing the part of the ultimate diva, because isn't she the ultimate diva herself? She looked glorious in the two Christian Lacroix gowns, especially the first with the huge pink poofy jacket that I want to own and wear on the weekends. =) My English teacher always says that an author can not expect his/her audience to believe that a character’s personality can drastically change unless there are hints throughout the work. I had that in my mind while watching Thais, looking for hints. The biggest hint of course comes from the opera itself in Act II when Thais explains that she is looking for more in life and her fear of what will happen when she grows old. Massenet leaves the rest to the soprano. Renee here again rose to the occasion. Hint #1: Thais meaningless declarations of love to Nicias. Hint #2: The way she reacts when Athanael comes into her room and promises her eternal life. Hint #3: Her desire for eternal life. Hint #4: Her reaction when she hears Nicias’s voice (she says she hates Nicias.) Hint #5: Her willingness to burn everything she owns, even if she wants to keep a small ivory statue, she’s only human. We can forgive Renee the last note she sang, which was…not lovely… because the rest of the performance was truly magical.

While this opera is a diva-mobile it struck me how much focus there is on Anthanael. That’s not a problem of course, because I found the character intriguing thanks to the brilliance that is Thomas Hampson. The opera could be called Athanael, because I feel that the focus is (or should be) not just on Thais’s conversion, but on Atahanael’s struggle and decent into obsession. Thais is almost a cameo role, while Athanael has a back-story and a struggle and a journey that shapes the plot. Thomas Hampson was miraculous as this tortured monk. He, if you can believe, almost (almost) completely stole the spotlight from Thais/Renee. He almost overshadowed her in their scenes together, but I suppose that that is the intention of the opera, for Athanael to overpower Thais. Either way, he sounded fantastic. To my ears he sounded thousand times better than he did at Renee’s Big Opening Night. Athanael suits his voice much better than Germont. His “conversion” was more believable than Thais’s, in that he becomes obsessed with her memory and when he finds her dying he yells “It was all lies! There is no heaven! Everything I have told you is wrong! Stay with me!” While extremely disturbing, these lines do provide a small amount of comic relief.

Michael Schade has never been on my list of favorite tenors. Don’t ask me why, because he was a wonderful voice, but something about him just doesn’t click with me. However, his portrayal of Nicias was great. Despite his Mafioso style costumes (which are not his fault) I enjoyed his performance as the thoroughly creepy, but idolizing Nicias. His duet with Thais was beautifully sung, and I wouldn’t mind hearing him again.

All the supporting roles were very commendable. Alain Vernhes as Palemon, the head monk, was beautifully sung as was Maria Zifchak as Albine. Alyson Cambridge and Ginger Costa-Jackson as Nicias’s lackey’s Crobyle and Myrtale were extraordinary. One is a graduate of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and the other a member, if these are the singers this program is churning out then I am an avid supporter!
The “Meditation” was simply glorious and although it was at times rudely interrupted by noisy set changes backstage, it was mesmerizing as played by David Chan. I found myself not looking at the orchestra but gazing around the opera house thinking “Is there a more perfect place to play such a perfect piece?” I just worship the Met and the “Meditation.”

IN THE WORDS OF A FAMOUS TENOR “SHUT UP WITH YOUR DAMN COUGHING.” For goodness sake, people. During intermission hack up your lungs for all I care, sneeze until your brains come out, but when the lights go down I want SILENCE! It wasn’t just an occasional sporadic cough or sneeze, but every time someone coughed it would send a chain reaction of “Okay, then I can cough/sneeze now too.” Sometime’s it would go on for minutes until I wanted to scream! Seriously, opera fans, it’s not that hard to cough at intermission, or to keep quiet for the short amount of time the singers were on stage!
Love always,
CaroNome of Score Desk

Quick note on the production itself: It reminded me of the Otto Schenk Ring. The desert set looked very difficult to navigate, I was always worried Thomas Hampson was going to fall!!!! Overall, I did enjoy it. Nicias’s palace was my favorite set.

Next Post: The New Met Opera Store!!!!!!!!!!

Happy Listening!!!! =)


Erin said...

I totally agree with your report, especially enough with the coughing already, it was so loud in there.

Jessica said...

Oh my god. I loved it. I absolutely loved Renee in the role, and I'm so with you on the coughing. kill me now.