Saturday, January 20, 2018

Eva Mei's White Hot Thaïs

I have always loved this opera and have never quite figured out why it isn't given more of a chance to catch on. Leontyne Price, Beverly Sills, and others have taken on this femme fatale, and dusting off its magical score just every once in a while to reveal the treasure it really is.

Pier Luigi Pizzo's production for La Fenice production is absolutely gorgeous with incredible care shown down to the smallest detail, yet always fresh and never fussy. Roses seem to be a central theme in this production and Pizzi gives us have tons of them, a virtual moving wall of roses. Thais (and later, Athanael's) bed is made of huge ropey vines of roses (which transforms during the meditation!).

Mei is a moving Thais and while the voice lacks some "plushness" her piano and sustained high register singing is pure and lovely. She's an affecting actress and her transformation from courtesan to saint is not only believable but poignant, she seems to radiate. The Mirror Aria is well sung, but it is in her duets with Pertusi, especially the opening and closing ones of Act III where she shines. Her death scene is absolutely beautiful.

Those who have nudity issues be forewarned a lot of flesh is on display here, the entire female corps de ballet is topless, save for necklace chains, and Thais has a topless doppleganger who gives a radiant performance of the Meditation (Though Mei's costume leaves little to the imagination).

Everybody has great legs here, not just Thais and the girls, but Athanael and Nicias too! William Joyner's bright tenor rings nicely and in Nicias's brief time onstage, Joyner creates a vain but imminently likeable fellow. His mini-skirt almost has one fearful of seeing something revealed that shouldn't be.

Everyone is barefoot but with stunning, ornate ankle ornaments by a company called (Venetian pedicurists must have been working overtime during this production!).

While the opera is called Thais – and as terrific as Mei is in the role – it is Michele Pertusi who just about walks away with the show. His is a presence that is never less than magnificent and I can't think of a better master of the pose than he; his hands, feet, face and his, every gesture is weighted with meaning and seems as an El Greco painting has come to life. Vocally, Pertusi wraps his himself around the role with a seemingly instinctual madness and burns with an intensity that never lets up (even after the final curtain – you'll see what I mean!)

While costumes are "traditional" in their representation of early A.D. Egypt, the physical production is representational and sparse with stunning use of the stage (though the literally dozens and dozens of crosses – another heavy symbol here initially had me thinking "overkill" – but it works!)

Marcello Viotti leads the Fenice forces - orchestra and chorus in a moving and theatrical reading. This is one of the most exciting DVDs I purchased this year (2004).

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