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Massenet, Jules: Thaïs
Act 2: Recitative and Aria, “Père, qu’il en soit ainsi…L’amour est une vertu rare” (Thaïs)
Original Content •
Editor's Note: Aria Talk focuses not on the tried-and-true pieces you undoubtedly already know, but on somewhat off-the-beaten-track arias. The hope is that this music will prove a refreshing musical and interpretive change not only for you, the performer, but also for those hearing you in auditions.
After wowing your listeners with something thrillingly expansive, show your versatility by presenting a more intimate piece. A “full lyric” soprano will relish Thaïs’s second aria for this purpose — it’s very touching, musically superb, and also the right length for auditions. Thaïs is a courtesan in fourth-century Alexandria. A fanatical monk, Athanaël, exhorts her to repent and to embrace a spiritual life. She agrees to let him lead her to a convent in the desert, but he insists that she cannot leave until every reminder of her former life is destroyed — her home and all her possessions. She asks to keep only a little statue of Eros and murmurs that love mustn’t be treated cruelly.
Thaïs believes that she has sinned against the god of love and weeps for having disregarded his desire (“He forbids a woman to give herself to anyone who does not come to her in his name”). She asks Athanaël to place the image in a monastery where anyone who sees it will turn to God, “for love raises us to heavenly thoughts.” Massenet ennobles these sentiments with a profoundly expressive vocal line. Work carefully with your coach to achieve a clear understanding of how to shape this composer’s tricky rubato. The range stays mainly within the staff until the final exquisite ascent to high B-flat. Through thoughtful projection of the text and phrasing of extreme elegance, an impression of heartbreaking sincerity can be conveyed from start to finish.
Publisher: Heugel & Cie
Recording: Renée Fleming in complete opera, Decca #466766
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