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Teatro Regio, Wednesday 10 December 2008 - Sunday 21 December 2008
The Thebaid. In his Cenobite community on the banks of the Nile, Athanaël says that vice is rampant in Alessandria, above all because of the courtesan Thaïs. That night the monk dreams that Thaïs is dancing on a stage in Alessandria, and decides to depart for the city to try to redeem her. In vain the elderly Palémon warns him of the risks he runs.
Alessandria. From the terrace of the house of Nicias (a friend of his, and now Thaïs’s companion), Athanaël casts a contemptuous glance towards Alessandria, the fallen city. Nicias tells him that he has sold everything for Thaïs, but now she is about to leave him. Athanaël confesses that he wants to redeem her, but his friend laughs at his plan: “the priestess of Venus” will never convert.
Two young slaves help the Cenobite to dress elegantly for a dinner to which Thaïs has also been invited. He explains to the courtesan that he wants to redeem her, but she laughs and invites him to yield to the pleasures of love. Athanaël leaves.
In Thaïs’s house. Thaïs is looking in the mirror and asks herself if her beauty is destined to age. Athanaël arrives and speaks to her about another kind of love, not Aphrodite’s, the sensual kind, but the love for God; she is struck by his words but repels him: The Cenobite promises to wait for her.
In front of Thaïs’s house. Thaïs reaches Athanaël and tells him that she has heard the voice of God: she will follow him to the convent. Athanaël makes her destroy her worldly goods. Nicias, friends and slaves, returning from the party, don’t believe that Thaïs has converted and don’t want her to leave. Her house suddenly catches fire and Nicias, in order to permit them to leave, calms the crowd by throwing handfuls of gold.
The oasis. Thaïs is exhausted by the long journey, but Athanaël exhorts her to mortify her body in atonement. They finally reach the convent of Sister Albina. Thaïs and Athanaël separate, but the Cenobite is disconsolate at the thought that he will never see her again
The Thebaid. Athanaël can think of nothing but Thaïs: he can no longer dominate his passion for the woman whom he redeemed. The courtesan appears to him in his dreams and he hears voices announcing that Thaïs is on the verge of death. Athanaël decides to return to the convent.
The gardens of Albina’s convent. After three months of penitence and fasting, Thaïs is dying. Athanaël rushes to her bedside and confesses that he lied to her: only earthly love counts, and he loves her. Breathing her last breath, Thaïs doesn’t listen, but extols God. The former courtesan, now redeemed, dies in the arms of the desperate Athanaël.