Thaïs
  • Jules Massenet. Comédie lyrique in three acts. 1893.
  • Libretto by Louis Gallet, after the novel by Anatole France.
  • First performance at the Paris Opéra on 16th March 1894.
CHARACTERS

Thaïs, an actress and courtesan

soprano

Athanaël, a young Coenobite monk

baritone

Nicias, a young Sybarite philosopher

tenor

Palémon, an old Coenobite monk

bass

Crobyle, a slave

soprano

Myrtale, a slave

mezzo-soprano

Albine, an abbess

mezzo-soprano

La Charmeuse, a dancer

soprano

Servant of Nicias

baritone

The young monk Athanaël, in the desert, sees a vision of the famous actress Thaïs, the centre of adulation, and sets out for Alexandria, with the intention of saving her. He meets her at the house of his former friend, the young nobleman Nicias, and later convinces her of the righteousness of his cause, setting fire to her house and possessions and leading her with him to the salvation offered by a convent. They part, but Athanaël is haunted by thoughts of Thaïs and presentiments for the future. He sets out for the settlement of the abbess, Mother Albine, where he finds Thaïs dying. She sees angels prepared to welcome her, while Athanaël must finally admit his mortal love for her, so long repressed.

The name of Massenet’s opera is all too well known from the Méditation that serves as an interlude expressive of the thoughts of Thaïs that lead to her conversion in the second act, as Athanaël waits at her door. The short piece has been arranged for a variety of instruments. In the first act Athanaël recalls how once he had approached the house of Thaïs in Alexandria, fascinated but now scandalised, in Hélas! Enfant encore (Alas! Still a child). In the second scene he approaches the house of his friend Nicias, with Voilà donc la terrible cité (There then is the terrible city). In her own house Thaïs looks at herself in the glass, reflecting on her beauty in Dis-moi que je suis belle et que je serai belle éternellement (Tell me that I am beautiful and shall be beautiful for ever). The theme of the fallen woman now redeemed is one much favoured by Massenet and his contemporaries and compatriots.