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Thais

Saving her Soul will Destroy His

Overview

The most beautiful courtesan in Alexandria, Thaïs holds an entire city in her thrall as she embraces life’s most sensual delights. One man alone, the monk Athanaël, weeps for her sins, but his pilgrimage to save the sinner’s soul becomes a tortured journey of erotic obsession. As seducer transforms into saint, the holy man falls victim to his own passions.

The incomparable Nino Machaidze returns as Thaïs, with Plácido Domingo as her would-be savior. Patrick Fournillier conducts a thrilling production by Nicola Raab that has taken European opera houses by storm. Filled with intoxicating melodies and exotic colors, Thaïs seduces both eyes and ears with a glittering treasure trove of pleasures.

(For information about the May 27 concert performance of Thaïs at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, click here.)

Company Premiere. Production from the Finnish National Opera, Helsinki.  Parental discretion advised.

Special production funding from Barbara Augusta Teichert.
Generous corporate sponsorship by Rolex.
Additional funding from the many individual donors to the Thaïs Subscribers Campaign.

Schedule

Cast

Creative Team

* LA Opera debut artist
+ Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program member

Synopsis

Setting: Byzantine Egypt (late fourth century, A.D.)

Act One
The cenobite monk Athanaël returns to his religious brethren after travelling to Alexandria. He explains to his fellow monks and to Palémon, the leader of the congregation, how shocked he was to find the city immersed in salaciousness and sin. Athanaël blames this spiritual disorder on the courtesan Thaïs. Athanaël recalls meeting Thaïs, a priestess in the cult of Venus, years earlier, before he had taken his vows. 

The community retires to rest. Athanaël has a dream in which he sees Thaïs naked. He decides that he must return to Alexandria to try to redeem the courtesan. In spite of Palémon’s warnings not to meddle in other people’s lives, the monk sets off through the desert to the city of sin.

In Alexandria, Athanaël visits a friend from his youth, Nicias, who is infatuated with Thaïs and has squandered a fortune on her. The monk explains the mission that has brought him to the city once again, but Nicias laughs, believing Athanaël will never succeed. Nonetheless, Nicias agrees to introduce him to Thaïs, who will be coming to his house for dinner that very evening. When she appears, the monk disapprovingly stares at her. Thaïs is somewhat disconcerted when she hears his sermon, but she invites him to visit her at her house if he hopes to convert her. 

Act Two
In her bedroom, Thaïs looks at herself in the mirror, wondering what life will be like when her beauty fades. Athanaël arrives and tries to persuade her to follow his doctrine, through which she will be blessed with eternal life and will be freed from sin and death. At first his words horrify Thaïs, but little by little she is overcome by an internal peace and she begins to feel happy. From outside the voice of Nicias is heard, calling to her. Athanaël says that he will wait outside for her at dawn. Throughout the night Thaïs meditates along about the spirituality of her soul.

The next morning, Thaïs is ready to follow the path of holiness. Athanaël will lead her to a convent, but she must first destroy all of her worldly possessions by fire. When Athanaël tells the crowd in the plaza that Thaïs has consecrated herself to God and that she will be leaving with him, they jeer and make ready to stone her and the monk. Nicias throws some gold coins on the ground to distract the crowd, as Thaïs and Athanaël flee to safety.

Act Three
Thaïs and Athanaël travel through the desert to a monastery run by Mother Albine. She is exhausted and barely has the strength to walk. The monk explains that this suffering is the penitence she must endure to rid herself of her sins. But when he sees that Thaïs’ feet are bleeding, he feels sorry for her and goes in search of water. He kisses her feet and comforts her. She thanks him for his kindness and for saving her soul. Once in the monastery the nuns welcome Thaïs. She bids the monk farewell and kisses his hands with love and admiration. Athanaël, knowing he will not see her again, falls apart. 

Athanaël once again returns to his brethren. Twenty days have passed and he is unable to stop thinking about Thaïs; he now realizes that he desires her with physical passion. He then has a dream in which he sees Thaïs dying in the monastery courtyard. When he awakens, he decides that he must see her again. 

Albine welcomes Athanaël, who finds the weakened Thaïs surrounded by the devout nuns. Athanaël tells her that his feelings for her are physical love, desire. In a state of mystical ecstasy, she is oblivious to the monk’s words. She passes away peacefully, leaving Athanaël in despair.

RUNNING TIME

Three hours, including two intermissions.
Evening performances: 7:30-10:10pm (approximately)
Matinee performances: 2:00-4:40pm (approximately)

Articles

Video

Scenes from "Thais" in Seville

Placido Domingo Discusses "Thais" (in Spanish)

Domingo Conducts Meditation from "Thais"

Pre-Performance TalkS

Get the full story by joining other opera-goers at our complimentary pre-opera talks in the Eva and Marc Stern Grand Hall of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. One hour before every performance, Duff Murphy (from Classical KUSC 91.5fm) will present an entertaining and informative introduction to Thaïs. These talks are free of charge to everybody attending the performance, and no reservations are required.

Photos