Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Jesus: 1; Fun: 0

Actually I take back the headline, maybe. Thing is, Thais is one of those things that flips around on you at the last moment. You know, like Dancer in the Dark, where you sit there for two hours going "this is fucking unbearable" until it finally dawns on you that it's a comedy. (Come on, anyone who can watch that little boy hand Bjork his broken glasses without laughing has a heart of stone.)

So that's also kind of true of Thais, yeah. I think so. I spent two and a half acts writhing in my seat at having to watch a pious denunciation of women, sex, living in the world, and having a nice place to live. And then suddenly it's the last scene and Thomas Hampson is jumping around like a puppy going "wait, wait, you can't die! I just realized you're hot!" and Renee Fleming is like "fuck it, you should have said something before you made me burn all my LaCroix. Ta ta, cruel world!" At that point it's so clear that the whole thing is virulently anti-clerical satire that it's hard to be upset.

Still, the Met's production is, it must be admitted, a bit joyless. I think this is actually a production that premiered in Chicago in 2002ish with the same principals, and one would be forgiven for wondering if the physical production showed up wrapped in a bow with a note that said "good luck with the staging!" Direction was not greatly in evidence, the crowd scene at the end of act whatever (tired. deal.) was one of those things where everyone's like "hey, stop her, she's getting away. Shit, there are pages of music left, and there is absolutely nothing to stop me from stopping her myself. Shit." For instance. The design itself is attractive in a dramatically quite generalized way. The "is it the desert or is it a dinosaur sized Ruffles potato chip?" effect is used to much greater effect in Santo Loquasto's Salome set, as my less-dour-than-I companion pointed out...

It seems to me the singing was all about what you'd expect, but a bit routine. Hampson sings this stuff well, if a bit woollily. There didn't seem to be toooo much Captain Kirking around, but it may be because the role is preposterous and impossible to overplay.

TH: So what's my motivation in this scene?
Imaginary absent director: You are a boring fucking zealot. Same as the last scene. And the next one.

His French I am temped to term a bit indistinct, but am also willing to be challenged on that, since my own is hardly expert. As always, he looks like a rollicking lay.

Fleming actually benefits a bit from the same impossible-to-overplay factor, perhaps, but the laugh-wait-sob at the end of Act I pushed the envelope. It's just that stylistically, Thais brings out some of her better tendencies, and this allows the glamor of her portrayal to seem organic rather than painted-on, as it can in some roles. The role goes higher than you think it's going to, and at this point it's not effortless for the big RF, but she doesn't hold back, and for that we're grateful. What came off best for both singers were low key moments like the duet in the desert and Fleming's less glitzy aria, the name of which I'm not going to google right now. Michael Schade assisted ably, but honestly I like his voice a lot more in Mozart, you know?

Someone is going to have to tell you about the fashion part, and it is not going to be me.

Think that's going to have to wrap it up, as it is late late late. Still intending to write about Tristan, and possibly the Sondheim show at the Public. (The one where the cub gets the twink, clearly a work of astringent realism...)


stewball said...

I wonder if you'd like this opera if it ended the way the Anatole France novel does: Immediately following the death of Thais, all the nuns flee from Athanael screaming "A vampire! A vampire!"

It's a bit of a sudden left turn, but it certainly sets up a sequel, though probably of the straight-to-video variety.

Maury D'annato said...

Stewball: hardly straight to video! Vampires are in, don't ya know. Girls in middle school, I am given to understand, are absolutely tearing through these books about a vampire who doesn't actually drink anyone's blood, but is very moody. And if that have "Thomas Hampson" written all over it, I don't know what does.

La Cieca said...

"L'amour est une vertu rare."

stewball said...

You're right of course, vampires are beyond "in" at the moment. So, a more pertinent reading of the novel's end might be that the nuns have actually seen a vampire in the near distance and are pursuing him Beatlemania-style, completely forgetting the drama they've just witnessed. This also seems to line up well with your notion of an anti-clerical satire:

Thais: Je vois...Dieu!

(Elle meurt.)

Athanael: Morte! Pitie!

Soeur Bertrille: (se dirigeant à une figure éloignée) Mes soeurs! Regarde! Un vampire! Un vampire!

Les Religieuses: Eeeeeeeeeeeek! Attrapons le vampire ! Il est si sexy !

(Elles sortent, chassant le vampire. Athanael rit pendant longtemps. Thais se réveille et alors elle rit aussi bien. Ils ouvrent des bouteilles de bière et ils boivent. Le rideau descend lentement.)

Maury D'annato said...

I made loud, unpleasant cackling noises upon reading "Soeur Bertrille." La soeur qui vole, je croix.

stewball said...

More Thaisian comedy yielded by this evening's broadcast:

I think La Charmeuse = Fiakermilli. As long as the costumes are going to be sort of 19th century, which I believe they are in this go-round, she could even wear her same costumefrom the other production. And when Fleming and Hampson enter, they could roll their eyes and recoil somewhat, both recognizing her from when they were in Arabella. It'd be a nice connecting moment for Thais and Athanael, very rom-com.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.