Music composed by Jules Massenet. Libretto by Louis Gallet after the novel of the same title by Anatole France.
First Performance: 16 March 1894, OpÈra, Paris
|ThaÔs, actress and courtesan||Soprano|
|AthanaÎl, a Cenobite monk||Baritone|
|Nicias, a wealthy friend of AthanaÎl||Tenor|
|PalÈmon, an old Cenobite monk||Bass|
|Crobyle, a slave||Soprano|
|Myrtale, a slave||Soprano|
Setting: Alexandria and the Egyptian desert during the
early Christian era.
Scene 1 — In a time when Alexandria is
wrapped in luxury and profligacy, ThaÔs, a priestess of Venus, is recognized
as the most beautiful of women. AthanaÎl, a Cenobite monk, who has been to
the city in an effort to preach the gospel, returns to his devout associates
with strange stories of Alexandriaís wickedness. Even though wearied by his
journey, his sleep is troubled by a vision of ThaÔs, posing in the
Alexandrian Theatre before a great throng who noisily applaud her beauty.
Awaking with a start, he is determined to ìreformî her, and against the
advice of the aged monk, PalÈmon, he sets out upon this mission.
Scene 2 — In Alexandria, AthanaÎl has a friend of his
former unregenerate days named Nicias, whose palace occupies a commanding
situation. Nicias greets his old friend with courtesy, but is moved to
laughter at his apparently whimsical notion of reforming the lovely ThaÔs,
upon whom Nicias himself has squandered a fortune. Willing to help for old
timesí sake, however, he has his household slaves array AthanaÎl in rich
robes, concealing his monkish habit. When at last ThaÔs herself arrives she
is at first repelled yet intrigued by this austere visitor. AthanaÎl tells
her that he has come to bring her to the only true God, as whose humble but
jealous servant he stands before her. ThaÔsí reply is characteristically
paganóshe believes in the joy of living; but she is none the less
impressed. AthanaÎl leaves, horrified, as ThaÔs begins to disrobe, to pose
Scene 1 — In her room lies ThaÔs. The floor is carpeted
with precious rugs from Byzantium, the air laden with the exotic perfumes of
flowers in vases of agate . . . incense burns before a statue of Venus …
yet ThaÔs is wearied of the world, her luxury . . . the words of the strange
monk haunt her memory . . . she fears that beauty and happiness will quickly
fade. Taking a mirror, she contemplates herself, and begs it to assure her
that she shall be forever beautiful.
At this moment comes AthanaÎl, who speaks to her of life everlasting, and
eternal beauty of the spirit. She at first tries to triumph over him with her
allurements, then succumbs to fear. The inexorable AthanaÎl leaves,
declaring, ìOn thy threshold till dawn I shall await thy coming.î The
curtain falls, but the orchestra continues playing the famous
ìMeditation,î symbolical of the conversation of ThaÔs. To a harp
accompaniment, a solo violin plays a melody of indescribable sweetness and
Scene 2 — True to his word AthanaÎl waits before her
house. From another house nearby come sounds of revelry. Towards dawn, ThaÔs
appears, worn and repentant after a night of emotion, ready now to follow her
holy guide into the wilderness. She leaves everything behind, and begs only
for a small statue of Erosólove himself, for she says, love has long been a
rare virtue, and begs that they may take the statue along to set up in some
monastery as an emblem of the love celestial.
AthanaÎl listens patiently enough until she remarks that this was a gift
from Nicias. Thereupon, AthanaÎl immediately seizes the statue and casts it
to the ground, shattering it into a thousand fragments. They enter her palace
to destroy the treasuresórelics of ìhellî there guarded; ThaÔs accepts
this sacrifice without demur.
As soon as they have gone, Nicias appears, having won heavily at the
games. He orders dancing, wine and music. When ThaÔs and the stern monk
return, they are greeted by a scene of revelry. This quickly changes to a
near riot, for the companions of Nicias are enraged at the prospective loss
of ThaÔs, and at AthanaÎl, for in his zeal he has set fire to her palace.
The crowd are about to seize and kill the monk. To save him, Nicias throws
gold coins among them, and as the people scramble for the money, AthanaÎl
and ThaÔs depart for the desert and a life of repentance.
Scene 1 — Tortured by lack of water, and weary from her
long journey across the desert, ThaÔs nearly faints although the journey is
almost over. The monk remorselessly drives her on, bidding her ìmortify the
flesh,î and she goes willingly. Finally, however, she staggers with
weakness, and AthanaÎl, moved to pity, allows her to lie down while he
bathes her feet, and gives her fruit and water from the oasis at which they
ThaÔs now seems uplifted, beyond the dominion of flesh, into great
spiritual exaltation; she is glad when the Abbess Albine and the White
Sisters come to lead her into a cell in the convent, a short way off. She has
found that peace for which her soul craved. Only AthanaÎl is troubled.
Scene 2 — Back among the brethren at the Cenobitesí
camp, AthanaÎl is compelled to confess to the aged PalÈmon that he has saved
ThaÔs at the cost of his own soul. Passionately raging at himself, he
strives to cast out of his mind the memories of her human weakness and of her
intoxicating beauty. Yet he longs for her . . . in his sleep, a vision comes
to him of ThaÔs, lovely, self-sure, mocking, as he first beheld her in
Alexandria; then the vision changes . . . her face lighted with the fervor of
religious mysticism as she lies dying in the convent. With a cry of terror he
awakens and rushes out into the darkness.
Scene 3 — ThaÔs, worn with repentance and self-denial, is
dying surrounded by the White Sisters, who respectfully withdraw when
AthanaÎl enters. Utterly distraught, the monk implores ThaÔs to return with
him to Alexandria, there they shall live happily . . . all that he has taught
her has been lies.
The ecstatic music of the ìMeditationî soars calmly aloft in the
orchestra, and ThaÔs, heedless of the words of AthanaÎl, sings of the gates
of heaven opening before her . . . the smiles of angels . . . the beating of
their wings. Suddenly she falls back dead, and AthanaÎl, cheated by himself,
cries out in despair.
[Synopsis Source: The Victor Book of the Opera (10th ed. 1929)]
image_description=Geraldine Farrar as ThaÔs
first_audio_name=Jules Massenet: ThaÔs
WinAMP, VLC, FooBar
product_title=Jules Massenet: ThaÔs
product_by=Renee Fleming (ThaÔs)
Simone Alberghini (AthanaÎl)
Joseph Calleja (Nicias)
Robert Lloyd (PalÈmon)
Ana James (Crobyle)
Liora Grodnikaite (Myrtale)
Clare Shearer (Albine)
Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Andrew Davis (cond.)
Live performance, 27 June 2007, Royal Opera House, London