(Fleming, protagonista de Thaïs, de Jules Massenet)
A Senhora (!!!) Fleming triunfa em mais um papel de grande cortesã, Thaïs (Massenet), no Met.
As férias – entre outras coisas – têm-me permitido organizar a (minha) dispersão. Estive a arrumar a casa e eis que deparei com uma curta entrevista de Renée Fleming, a propósito da sua Thaïs:
«You're known as one of the great interpreters of Thaïs. What draws you to this character?
Thaïs is one of the iconic roles in the entire soprano literature and the most musically glamorous role I sing. This opera uses every single vocal mechanism in the entire soprano lexicon, from full-bodied lyricism to high pianissimo singing... Every three pages there's some effect that sounds terrifying and risky and difficult–and it is–but it's worthwhile, and the role fits me in terms of vocal weight and tessitura. The best roles are the ones that are interesting and challenging dramatically as well. Thaïs is one of perhaps four roles in my entire repertoire that could have been written for me.
What makes it such a good fit?
It's the tessitura. Thaïs is high-flying, but the general tessitura is very much middle-voice. That's the key for me. The Massenet roles really want a full lyric voice in addition to lighter qualities. Anything heavier, for me, weighs the voice too much, which is also very much dependant on the orchestration.
Thaïs is not just a vocal showpiece. From an acting standpoint, it's an interesting psychological study as well.
She is such a modern figure. One of the things that's important to understand is that the word "courtesan," particularly in the time that Massenet was writing, had completely different–and much more positive–connotations than it does today, more kept woman than prostitute. There's a fantastic book by Joanna Richardson called The Courtesans: The Demi-monde in 19th Century France. It's a profile of all of the top courtesans of that time, and what you realize is each of these women, if they were lucky and financially savvy and healthy, then they had fascinating lives. They were completely independent, unlike married women, and could surround themselves with the greatest artists and minds of the day. Thaïs is also a great actress and performer, a star, which is precisely why Athanaël wants to convert her. So she is a wonderful character to play both in her outward confidence and in the way she uses her seductive gifts to rule her world. But she is also incredibly lonely. She sees very much in her future that once her beauty fades, she will have no value anymore in society, and she's desperately looking for more. That quest for a spiritual life beyond passing physical beauty relates to us today–it has related to people in all times.
Thaïs has not been heard at the Met since Beverly Sills starred in the title role in 1978. Why?
It's rarely performed because it's impossible to cast. If my role is difficult, Athanaël is twice as hard. It's long, it's heavy–extremely challenging. And then there's the legend going back to the original Thaïs, Sybil Sanderson, experiencing a costume malfunction in her dress rehearsal, when her top fell off–which may or may not have been planned. There have been other recent productions where the scandal of what somebody wears–or more importantly doesn't wear–becomes more of a focus than the actual theatrical or musical values of the show. So Thaïs has some baggage.
Do you enjoy doing research into the history of a piece?
I love it! I wish I could do more, because it really does teach you a lot. The history of Sanderson and Massenet is so interesting. I have the first edition of this opera, and the vocal writing is completely different. It's quite staid and simple and not very high. But Massenet fell in love with Sanderson–or was infatuated with her, obsessed with her–and she helped him forge a much more agile, exciting vocal line in what became a completely different score. She was his muse. What's interesting is when Sanderson made her debut at the Met in Manon, it was an absolute disaster. The reviews were all terrible. The critics said, "How on earth was she famous?" They thought her voice was too small, it had no color, her acting was fake. But she's this historic figure who actually inspired several roles I sing. She completely changed the way Massenet wrote for the voice. It's fascinating to read about these collaborations.
Sills, Sanderson–are you inspired by legendary singers?
I connect very much to singers of the past. It makes me feel that I belong to a tradition. I don't think one could get decades of pleasure doing what I do if you didn't really want to be connected to this network of great singers who've come before.»
Entretanto, o The New York Times publica uma enaltecedora critica da récita de 8 de Dezembro, como segue:
«An opera company does not decide to mount a production of Massenet’s “Thaïs” and then look for a soprano to sing the title role. The only reason to produce this ultimate star vehicle today is that a company has a genuine star who wants to sing it.
At the Metropolitan Opera in 1978 that star was Beverly Sills. Now, 30 years later, it is Renée Fleming, who appeared as Thaïs in the Met’s new production on Monday night. Ms. Fleming justified the company’s faith by delivering a vocally sumptuous and unabashedly show-stealing Thaïs. A glamorous courtesan in fourth-century Alexandria, Thaïs undergoes a spiritual transformation when confronted by an ascetic monk, Athanaël, whose fierce religiosity cannot contain his erotic desires.
For decades the opera has claimed only a marginal place in the standard repertory. So even with a soprano of Ms. Fleming’s audience appeal, the Met was not about to mount its own production just for her. Instead it has imported a 2002 staging by John Cox from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, a high-camp affair with exotically ornate new costumes for Ms. Fleming designed for this occasion by Christian Lacroix. The baritone Thomas Hampson, who sang Athanaël opposite Ms. Fleming in Chicago (and has recorded the opera with her), returns to the role here, and he was in top form.
Ms. Fleming, who has always made deliberate decisions about repertory, has said that the role of Thaïs could have been written for her. Her performance proves her point. Though filled with lyrical flights to the upper register and some florid singing, which she handled beautifully, the vocal lines mostly hover in the soprano’s midrange, where Ms. Fleming’s sound is especially rich, sensual and strong.
In the early scenes, when Ms. Fleming’s Thaïs, wearing curly golden locks, is flirtatious and tempestuous, the poignant colorings of her voice tinge her singing with sadness, lending ambiguity to her defiance. Later, when she turns as a supplicant to God, there are still elements of sensual longing in her singing, which again enhance the complexity of the portrayal.
But let’s face it. “Thaïs” is a diva spectacle, and Ms. Fleming plays it to the hilt. In Scene 2, during a party at Nicias’ well-appointed house, complete with solid-gold decorative palm trees, Athanaël appears, issuing apocalyptic threats to Thais, which Mr. Hampson sings chillingly. The guests ridicule the monk, forcing him to his knees and bedecking him with garlands in tribute to Venus. In the midst of a vocal outpouring, Ms. Fleming climbs a winding staircase just so she can deliver a triumphant high C from the top landing, then scurries back down to face the humiliated monk as the curtain falls.
In the scene most crucial to this drama of conversion, Ms. Fleming and Mr. Hampson are inspired. It takes place in a desert oasis near the convent of Albine. Thaïs, exhausted from traveling, her feet bleeding, can go no farther. Athanaël entrusts her to the care of the welcoming nuns. In a couple of impassioned outbursts Mr. Hampson pushed his voice worrisomely. But for the most part he sang with plaintive sound and sensitive lyricism.»
(Renée Fleming ossia Thaïs)