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<<  -- 4 --  Robert Hugill    WONDERFULLY ENJOYABLE

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The final scene, in which Thaïs dies saint-like, whilst Athanael cries out his love for her, was truly shattering. Both Duprels and Holland rose brilliantly to the occasion ably supported by the chorus and by the Albine of Harriet Williams. Here again, Fielding gave us a neat use of imagery. Earlier in the opera, Thaïs's devotion to the cult of Venus had been emphasised using a statue of Eros surrounded by an illuminated red heart. For the final scene this was paralleled with Thaïs's dying vision of the Sacred Heart of Christ.

The three leads were ably supported by the singers in the more minor roles, all of whom sing in the Grange Park Opera ensemble. South African Vuyani Mlinde brought an expressive bass voice to the role of Palemon and gave the character a convincing gravity and philosophical character. Mlinde is a talented young singer and I hope to hear much more of him, though his French needs some improvement. Elizabeth Bailey and Flora McIntosh were Crobyle and Myrtale, Thaïs's backing singers in this production. Both displayed lovely voices in Massenet's lively vocal writing and were possessed of lovely bodies which David Fielding's skimpy costumes displayed to good advantage.

Next year is Grange Park Opera's tenth, and they have come a long way since their early seasons. They have a well-equipped new theatre, a chorus director, a young artists' scheme, a scheme to attract young people to the performances and an endowment fund. This latter meant that conductor Martin Andre had an orchestra of some fifty performers at his disposal. It is difficult doing Massenet's music with a small band, his music requires the sweep of an ample string section. Andre and his enthusiastic performers brought remarkable commitment and a fine sense of style to the music and in the great moments, made a convincing case for the music. They also seemed be actually enjoying the music for its own sake.

Grange Park Opera has given us some interesting productions of lesser known French opera in the past (Messager's Fortunio, Chabrier's Le Roi Malgre Lui, Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tiresias, Ravel's L'Heure Espagnole), and now have given us a strong production of Massenet's Thaïs which makes the best possible case for the opera. And more than that, gave us a wonderfully enjoyable evening in the theatre.

Copyright © 8 June 2006 Robert Hugill, London UK

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