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Massenet: Thais

3.2 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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(Aug 25, 2009)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Barbara Frittoli and Lado Ataneli star in this 2008 Teatro Regio Torino production of the Massenet opera conducted by Gianandrea Noseda.


There's an uncompromising clarity to Blu-ray audio and video that really does bring the splendour of grand opera right into the living room. So it's all the more frustrating to get a compromised production as the final product. Jules Massenet's 1894 tragedy about a sex goddess humbled by an insistent Cenobite monk isn't produced very often, because of a demanding lead role and some difficult staging issues. But the music is gorgeous from beginning to end. When you have a great diva at centre stage, the three acts go by in a flash.

(Here's an interesting bit of trivia: there was a startling wardrobe malfunction at the opera's premiere in Paris, where American diva Sybil Sanderson's gown fell apart, exposing her left breast. It caused a scandal to rival Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction a century later.)

Unfortunately, this 2008 production from the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy, never quite soars. Soprano Barbara Frittoli is too darkly dramatic in both voice and demeanour as the adulated Thaïs. And Stefano Poda's design, choreography and direction, while as visually stunning as anything you'll ever see in an opera house, undercuts the progress of the story right from the opening scene.

Baritone Lado Atanelli is excellent as the ardent, conflicted monk, and conductor Gianandrea Noseda, a frequent guest of the Toronto Symphony, makes sublime work of Massenet's rich score.

There are no extras on the disc. The Metropolitan Opera's recent production of Thaïs, featuring Renée Fleming, is due out on DVD sometime soon. It's worth waiting for. --, John Terauds, September 15, 2009

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Diego Matamoros, Barbara Frittoli, Lado Ataneli, Ketevan Kemoklidze, Alessandro Liberatore
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Classical, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC
  • Language: French (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (DTS 5.1), French (PCM Stereo)
  • Subtitles: German, Italian, Spanish, English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Arthaus
  • DVD Release Date: August 25, 2009
  • Run Time: 139 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B002ED6UXW
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #220,944 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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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.
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We happened to watch this DVD and the Zurich Tannhauser with Peter Seiffert back-to-back, a most instructive experience. Both operas are about love and redemption. The Goddess Venus figures in each. Both productions got some very good and some very poor reviews. We loved them both, for very different reasons. This Thais is not realistic and certainly not any kind of Eurotrash. It's the best designed and executed highly abstract production that we've ever seen--of any opera. The Tannhauser, in contrast, is excellent for its very human-ness, its gritty, sweaty, highly emotive portrayal of a man ripped up by his passions.

The movement in Thais is wonderful. I had longed for a director to virtually abandon everyday ways of moving in favor of slow, ceremonial, and symbolic motion, and here we have that, beautifully executed both by the principles, the chorus, and the dancers. It seems to me that other operas which are almost always staged in a much more realistic manner would benefit from this sort of creativity. The bareness of the dancers (or the "movement chorus"?) is so pervasive and well-conceived that it becomes commonplace rather than startling, and works not as the rather common tease seen in many productions with a bit of nudity, but as a meaningful aspect of the production.

Finally, the singing and playing was very good. Once we settled into the style and aims of the production, we decided that the casting choices were excellent.

If you have ever enjoyed any non-traditional production, you might well enjoy this one as much as we did.
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Perhaps my rating is based on my pack of knowledge of this opera. It just has a very sensual (actually TOO sensual) production format. Might appeal to other. Not to me.
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