<< -- 3 -- Robert Hugill WONDERFULLY ENJOYABLE
Act 2 opens with Thaïs backstage after a performance. Here Duprels came into her own in the lovely solo, 'Dit-moi que je suis bel' in which we become aware of the character's loneliness and emptiness and her worries over growing old. These are issues that cross the ages and apply as much to an ageing rock singer as to an Egyptian courtesan. The scene in which Athanael attempts to convert Duprels came over very powerfully. Holland and Duprels came as close as it is possible to come, in a short operatic scene, to making us understand how one person might convert another. Fielding extends this into the famous Meditation. This entracte, with its violin solo, is meant to depict the struggle that occurs within Thaïs's soul. The music is, perhaps, too sugary nowadays for us to really believe the struggle so Fielding articulates it by having Athanael kneeling in prayer by the side of the stage whilst Thaïs becomes disenchanted with her fellow performers and colleagues and finally, lying depressed and exhausted, has a vision of Christ.
Here Fielding shows his theatrical daring, his determination to treat the story seriously and an understanding of Catholic imagery. The Christ of Thaïs's vision is played by an actor and as he crosses the stage he stops and allows Thaïs, Thomas-like, to discover his wounds. In a production that played with kitsch this moment could have been a coup or an embarrassment. It says something for the seriousness with which the director and actors took the underlying story, that the moment was not in the least embarrassing and helped articulate Thaïs's decision to leave Alexandria with Nicias.
Act 2 scene 2 of Grange Park Opera's 'Thaïs', featuring Athanael, Crobyle and Myrtale (front) and Thaïs and Nicias (behind). Photo © 2006 Alastair Muir
My only real complaint about the staging is regarding Act 2 as Fielding has cut the ballet music. Granted, this music is not germane to the plot, but it is lovely music and would have been a delight to hear in the theatre.
Act 3 opens with Thaïs and Athanael pausing at an oasis, with Thaïs fainting from fatigue. Fielding's production design was not completely realistic and here he brilliantly abandons any pretence. At the end of Act 2, Thaïs and Athanael burn Thaïs's house before leaving Alexandria. Here, on the oasis, Fielding depicts them against the backdrop of the burnt remains of Thaïs's previous life. This scene was an extra one, which Massenet added later. In it, Athanael begins to realise that he loves Thaïs. Holland encapsulates this brilliantly and Duprels suffered finely, making us feel for her.
Copyright © 8 June 2006
Robert Hugill, London UK