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Teatro Regio, Wednesday 10 December 2008 - Sunday 21 December 2008
Perdition and redemption, sensuality and ascesis: the novel Thaïs by Anatole France (1889) is a play of contrasts, and those contrasts (a courtesan who redeems herself becomes a nun, but the Cenobite who convinced her to convert works himself into a frenzy of passion for her) return in the opera by Jules Massenet based on the same novel, with the libretto by Louis Gallet. The scandal of the story was magnified at the première (at the Opèra de Paris on 16 March 1894) by the fact that the first Thaïs, the beautiful Sybil Sanderson, accidentally bared her breast as she sang (although the critics said it was no accident). Anatole France wrote to Massenet in this way: «You have raised my poor Thaïs to the highest level that an opera heroine can reach. It is my sweetest glory. I’m in absolute ecstasy. “Assiedstoi près de nous”, the aria to Eros, the final duet - it is all charmingly beautiful. I am happy and proud to have provided the subject upon which you developed the most inspired phrases. I clasp your hands in joy». However, after some criticism, the composer decided to make some changes to the opera, and a new version was staged at the Opéra de Paris on 13 April 1898. In Italy it was Lina Cavalieri who was responsible for the opera’s success in 1903 at the Teatro Lirico di Milano. The most famous section of the opera is undoubtedly the “Meditation”, the intermezzo for violin and orchestra that is also performed as a concert piece or encore.
Composer: Jules Massenet
Librettist: Louis Gallet from Anatole France
Year of the first performance: 1894 Opéra de Paris