A Wonderful Thais
Joy Gilman | Chincoteague, VA USA | 08/31/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I rarely write reviews of operas on DVD because I most definitely lack the sophistication to analyze the various operas that I watch at home. However, on reading this review of Poda's Thais directly after watching it with great fascination and enjoyment, I really felt I owed it to future perspective buyers to see the opera from another perspective. I own and have found Mei's Thais totally unsatisfactory, so when Poda's DVD became available I immediately made the purchase. First I must say that nudity and "sexiness" don't go all that together in my mind - nor my husband's. The fact that Barbara Frittoli and her fellow "prostitutes" are completely clothed certainly doesn't make them less "sexy" or less looking like prostitutes, in my mind. Massenet's music is erotic enough to make the point! There's plenty of nudity in the beautiful dancers - and the dancing is both profound, (to my mind and heart), and moving. In fact the only problem I had with the opera is the wobbly voice of Frittoli.
We don't see Thais much any more, so it's a great pleasure to now have two of them on the DVD market. I'm sure that in my family we'll be watching Poda's production over and over again. If the Met produces a new production with Fleming, I'm sure it'll be a different interpretation than Poda's production. That will be wonderful - after all we do welcome different interpretations of our old favorite operas. I might or might not prefer it to Poda's interpretation, but that will not dull my enthusiasm for this production. I think I can highly recommend this production to anyone who enjoys new interpretations, beautiful dancing, great singing and would like to own a wonderful DVD of Thais.
A Disappointing Production, Some Wonderful Singing
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 08/30/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Stefano Poda's production of Thaïs at the Teatro Regio of Turin is lushly staged, with rich costumes, impressive sets, interesting lighting. But the production itself falls flat, largely because this opera, whose story centers on the beguiling allure and fleshly attractions of its title character, does not emphasize that aspect of the story. Rather Poda seems to be going for something more philosophically profound than a story of sin overcome by religious conversion. We get the conversion without much evidence of the sin. (Where is Carol Neblett's scandalously unclad San Francisco Opera Thaïs when we need her?) First of all, Barbara Frittoli, quite a physically attractive soprano, is given little to do to make use of her innate beauty. Rather, she and the other prostitutes are clothed in black floor-length gowns which completely cover their bodies and lend little to the notion that she and they are physically irresistible. The whole production involves characters moving with marmoreal slowness and interacting little with each other, and there is some evidence to suggest that they don't understand the contents of the libretto. For instance, when Athanaël, the Cenobite monk, is, according to the text, being dressed more appropriately for the party at his friend Nicias's house, he doesn't change his attire or his appearance. The whole production comes across more as a staged oratorio. That plays up the religious aspects of the story but it makes Thaïs's ultimate religious conversion seem unsurprising rather than shocking.
Barbara Frittoli sings beautifully. Her spinto voice has many colors and she uses them skillfully. Indeed it is her musical participation that contributes most to whatever satisfaction one derives from the production. The Georgian bass-baritone, Lado Ataneli, certainly looks the part but his performance is rather colorless and uninflected; there is little passion in the last act. (One is struck that Ataneli's surname is so similar to that of his character, Athanäel. I wonder if that has anything to do with his having learned the part?) Tenor Alessandro Liberatore sings a fine Nicias. Choreography was also by Poda and it was both dull and intrusive; for instance, the score clearly indicates that the famous 'Meditation', marked 'religious', is to be played in front of the curtain. Instead the stage is filled with dancers doing nothing special nor specially religious. Gianandrea Noseda is in the pit and leads a slowish but nicely nuanced performance.
I have not seen the DVD of Thaïs starring Eva Mei, a soprano whose acidulous voice I cannot endure; I gather that production has not been much admired by others. And as far as I know that one and this production are the only DVDs of Thaïs available. In the meantime stick with the audio recording of the opera with Renée Fleming and Thomas Hampson, and hope that the Met's fine production of 2008 (with Fleming) makes it to DVD.
Total time: 139mins; Sound: PCM stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1; Subtitles: French, English, German, Italian, Spanish; Format: 16:9; Region code: 0 (worldwide)
We Do Not Have a Winner Here
David D. Dollinger | Pasadena, CA | 09/01/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"It was with some anticipation that I put the DVD in the player. It had to be better than the performance with Mei and Pertusi. Alas with the exception of Ataneli,and some of the secondary singers there is a gigantic hole:no Thais. Frittoli is a singer in trouble. She is developing a wobble on sustained passages whether or not they are high, low, loud or soft. She is not helped by a production which borders on the idiotic. Essentially this is a concert performance, in costume. At no point do characters interact emotionally with each other. Park and bark, stand and deliver. Costumes are ludicrous.
It is unusual to find French opera performed in Italy; in the "bad" old days it would have been sung in the vernacular. It is also unusual to find Thais without a soprano who possesses the requisite vocal glamour and physical allure to pull of what is really a silly role. Frittoli does not fill the bill. To hear how the voice has deteriorated one only has to listen to a Cosi Fan Tutte from Vienna taped around 1996, available on a Medici Arts label. I take no pleasure in writing this. Ataneli is the only singer who realizes that the text is in French. Amazing for an artist from Georgia. Nicias is a thankless role and the tenor Alessendro Liberatore doesn't make one wish that Massenet had made more of the role.
Will the Met production make it to DVD? I surely hope so. The mise-en-scene is no more evocative of the period but at least it isn't as goofy as what was offered in Turin. Needless to say the singing is far superior (Ateneli excepted)."