March 16th, 1894 – Massenet’s Opera “Thaïs”

The opera Thaïs, by Jules Massenet was first performed on March 16th, 1894.

Thais

Thaïs (French pronunciation:  [ta.is]) is an opera, entitled ‘comédie lyrique’ in three acts and seven tableaux, by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Louis Gallet, based on the novel Thaïs by Anatole France. It was first performance was at the Opéra Garnier in Paris, starring the American soprano Sibyl Sanderson, for whom Massenet had written the title role. The opera was later revised by the composer and was premiered at the same opera house of the original version on April 13th, 1898.

Manuel_Orazi_-_Jules_Massenet_-_Thaïs_-_OriginalThe work was first performed in Italy at the Teatro Lirico Internazionale in Milan on October 17th, 1903 with Lina Cavalieri in the title role and Francesco Maria Bonini as Athanaël. In 1907, the role served as Mary Garden‘s American debut in New York in the U.S. premiere performance.

Thaïs takes place in Egypt during Byzantine rule, where a Cenobite monk, Athanaël, attempts to convert Thaïs, an Alexandrian courtesan and devotee of Venus, to Christianity, but 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, the entr’acte for violin and orchestra played between the scenes of Act II, is an oft-performed concert music piece; it has been arranged for many different instruments.

After Manon and Werther, Thaïs is one of Massenet’s most performed operas, but it is not part of the standard operatic repertoire. The role of Thaïs, similar to another Massenet heroine also written for Sybil Sanderson, Esclarmonde, is notoriously difficult to sing and is reserved for only the most gifted of performers. Modern interpreters have included Carol Neblett, Anna Moffo, Beverly Sills, Leontyne Price, Renée Fleming, and Elizabeth Futral. Géori Boué was the first to record the opera, in 1952.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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