Thaïs: dazzling score, dazzling set, dazzling cast
This wee, Thaïs opened at Minnesota Opera. In one word, it was magnificent - and begs the question: why is this opera such a rarity?
Massenet's beautiful music just sneaks up from you. It began softly under the baton of Christopher Franklin, and within seconds reached the poignant beauty. The famous "Thaïs Meditation" was stunning, earning a prolonged applause, with even the maestro turning around and applauding with the audience.
I had been reading about Minnesota home grown soprano Kelly Kaduce for quite a while now. She certainly lives up to the hype, she is truly a singing actress. I felt that throughout the three acts she did a wonderful characterization. Although, she moved too frantically during her "mirror aria", making it hard to see the critical change in her characters heart.
Opposite her Thaïs was Lucas Meachem as Athanaël. This man has a voice and technique that is unparalleled. His vibrant and full upper register was put to good use in Massenet's music. A great actor, I felt the struggle of his character was palpable. Both of these singers had great chemistry and every step of the journey was believable.
I have liked every production in the Minnesota Opera this year, but after this one, I felt that the creative team had been holding out on us. Thaïs blew the rest of the season out of the water. The lighting (Marcus Dilliard), sets and costumes (Lorenzo Cutuli) were perfect. The creative team came out and took a bow, and they certainly deserved it.
The first scene opens with the monks standing behind a colored scrim and had a large icon crucifix; the second scene has a gold theme that shows the decadence of the palace of Nicias (sung by Gerard Schneider). The chorus wore ornate gold costumes and masquerade masks.
The evening goes well until Thaïs' entrance. I was swept away by Kaduce's stage presence, but the whole cast began an extended orgy scene during Nicias and Thaïs' duet. I understood why the director Andrea Cigni did this, but it I felt it went too far and far too long.
The weakest point of this production is the dancing. In the French tradition, Massenet's score allows for plenty of ballet. In this production, the ballet drags on a little long, unhelped by mediocre choreography (and in one case, reminiscent of the Macarena).
When one sees a performance like this, again I wonder: why is it not performed more often? Is it the plotline? The religious convictions of Athanäel and the split-second conversion of Thaïs earn snickers and guffaws at very inappropriate times. Whatever your religious convictions, I think there is always something to glean from masterpieces like this. The cast of Minnesota Opera's production certainly gave me a lot to think about.