PERFORMER: Beverly Sills, Sherrill Milnes, Nicolai Gedda, Richard Van Allan, Ann-Marie Connors, Ann Murray, Norma Burrowes; John Alldis Choir, New Philharmonia Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
CATALOGUE NO: CMS 5 65479 2 ADD Reissue
One of Massenet’s finest operas, a work which should be much more widely performed than it is, Thaïs is based on a novel by Anatole France. Athanaël, a monk in fourth-century Alexandria, converts a courtesan, Thaïs, who then becomes a nun. Unfortunately, he is enamoured of her and attempts to address her passionately as she lies dying. Strong, if odd, stuff, and Massenet clothes it in one of his most erotically appealing scores. Thaïs is convincingly characterised by Beverly Sills, Sherrill Milnes brings his magnificent voice to the role of the amorous monk Athanaël, and Nicolai Gedda is a model of French style as Nicias, the philosopher-friend of Athanaël.
The smaller roles are entrusted for the most part to excellent English singers such as Ann Murray, Norma Burrowes and Richard Van Allan, who have all been heard to better advantage elsewhere, and Lorin Maazel (who also plays the famous violin Méditation himself) conducts with a brisk insensitivity to the score’s many incidental beauties. The 1976 recording is vivid, somewhat favouring the voices but not too obtrusively. Charles Osborne