Massenet opera in South Florida

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Jules Massenet

The opera Thaїs by Jules Massenet (1842-1912) was first performed in 1894. It is derived from a book of the same name by Anatole France.

Thaïs takes place in Egypt during Byzantine rule, where a monk, Athanaël, attempts to convert Thaïs, an Alexandrian courtesan and devotee of Venus, to Christianity. He discovers too late that his obsession with her is rooted in lust; while the courtesan's true purity of heart is revealed, so is the religious man's baser nature.

The work is often described as bearing a sort of religious eroticism, and has had many controversial productions. Its famous Méditation played between the scenes of Act II, is an oft-performed concert music piece.

The Florida Grand Opera production of Thaїs is a double cast production with two sopranos singing the title role.  The first cast features the incomparable Cuban-American soprano, Eglise Gutiérrez as Thaїs. The second cast features soprano Angela Mortellaro as Thaїs. 

Kristopher Irmiter who sings the role of Athanaël (the monk who reforms Thaїs) actually has the largest role in the production.  Kristopher is a Grammy-nominated artist who has performed with major opera companies from coast to coast, growing his repertoire to more than 100 performed roles.

The world-renowned set and costume designer Andre Barbe is in town for this production. 

Many of FGO’s own young artists from the Young Artist Residency Program are cast in the production, including Adam Lau as Palémon and Martin Nusspaumer as Nicias. 

 

 

MIAMI ◙ Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County / Ziff Ballet Opera House

 

May 3, 2014, at 7:00 p.m. – Opening Night

 

May 4, 2014, matinee at 2 p.m.
May 6 & 10, 2014, at 8:00 p.m.

 

 

 

 

 

FORT LAUDERDALE ◙ Broward Center for the Performing Arts / Au-Rene Theater

 

May 15 & 17, 2014, at 7:30 p.m.

 

Here are the Director's/ Designer notes for the FGO production:

 

Since the beginning, mankind has lived with doubts and desires. With Massenet's opera we once again confront the continual battle between the everyday and the spiritual with essential questions like “Who are we really? What do we want? What do we run away from?” Has Thaïs really found her faith? We don’t know, but she has undeniably found peace. Her fear of growing old, her anguish as she confronts mortality in the aria "Dis-moi que je suis belle et que je serai belle éternellement " (Tell me I am lovely, tell me I'll be fair until the end of time) disappears when Athanaël offers her an eternal life - a life where pretense is no longer necessary, where she is no longer condemned in the eyes of the world. In the eye of God, she discovers serenity. But the eye of God can also push man's fragile mind towards fanaticism and madness; the longing to please God can transform him from a god of love into a god of vengeance. The exaltation offered by most religions can easily be transformed into the need to punish differences. In his constant search for answers and reassurance, doubting man finds refuge and concealment in religious dogma. Louis Gallet's libretto, based on the novel by Anatole France, questions the foundation and value of our spirituality. The monk Palémon warns Athanaël not to walk in the paths of the ungodly - or so eternal wisdom would tell us, “Ne nous mêlons jamais, mon fils, aux gens du siècle." (Of what is he afraid?) Athanaël has studied philosophy with Nicias, who here represents the world of humanism; he decides to quit that world and put himself at the service of his faith. But in quitting the world is he not also renouncing to himself. Is isolation not just a form of flight? Athanaël must confront his nature as a man; religion will not help, for it is not God but his own dishonesty that will destroy him. Massenet takes us to Egypt in the 4th Century A.D., and to a confrontation between two worlds - the carnal one of Thaïs, which combines the Pagan cultures of both Egypt and Greece, where pleasure is the order of the day - and the world of Athanaël, Christian monk who wishes to convert Thaïs the sinner and save her from the pit of hell. We witness a prime moment of transition, full of conflict and doubts: The Egyptian Empire no longer exists, Greek civilization is on foreign ground, and we see the beginning of the Byzantine Empire.

 

 

 

The way the outside world looks at Thaïs, the way Athanaël looks at both Thaïs and God, the way Thaïs looks at herself and the way God looks at her, seems to us be best represented by an eye - an eye that sees and judges all. On the floor an oval platform represents different strata of civilizations, in the style of the Greek bas-reliefs and Egyptian hieroglyphics. The sacred eye of Osiris symbolizes eternal life, it is a counterpoint to the inner eye which allows Thaïs to lift her spirit and yield to peace. It seemed important to us first of all to present the symbolism of the work in a minimalist style without betraying the spirit of the piece. The costumes represent the spirit of the characters, whether they are the monks and nuns who are physically and spiritually grounded in their environment, or the actors and philosophers who represent the energy of a life "without any tomorrow ". It was also extremely important to us to maintain the orientalist themes which so enchanted the original audiences at the Paris Opera without in any way betraying the work itself.

Renaud Doucet
Stage director - choreographer
André Barbe
Set & Costume Designer


 

Clifford Cunningham

Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist currently affiliated with the National Astronomical Research Institute. He did his PhD work in the history of astronomy at James Cook University, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. He is the author of 12 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honour by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in 1990.

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