Renee Fleming and Thomas Hampson Star In Met's 'Thais' 12/8
Renée Fleming and Thomas Hampson star in the Met's first new production of Jules Massenet's richly melodic Thaïs in thirty years. The rarely performed opera opens at the Met on Monday, December 8, and runs through January 8, with the December 20 matinee transmitted live worldwide as part of The Met: Live in HD series. "Fleming and Hampson made a heavenly match," Chicago Sun-Times critic Wynne Delacoma wrote when this production, which comes from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, opened there in 2002.
Set in Hellenistic Egypt, Thaïs is the story of an ascetic monk, Athanaël (Hampson), who convinces the beautiful courtesan Thaïs (Fleming) to dedicate her life to God, only to find himself tormented by his attraction to her. Jesús López-Cobos conducts the sensuous and melodic score, with tenor Michael Schade as Thaïs's lover, Nicias. All three singers are performing their roles for the first time at the Met. The production, which comes from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, is by John Cox. Fashion designer Christian Lacroix has designed new costumes for Renée Fleming. Lacroix recently designed Fleming's costumes for Act II of La Traviata, which she sang at the Met's Opening Night Gala. Duane Schuler is the lighting designer, and Sara Jo Slate makes her Met debut as choreographer.
Composed by Massenet as a star vehicle for the beautiful American soprano Sybil Sanderson, Thaïs was staged at the Met for the legendary divas Geraldine Farrar in 1917 and Maria Jeritza in 1922, both of whom were idolized by the public as much for their physical allure as for their singing. The 1939 revival featured Helen Jepson and Marjorie Lawrence alternately in the title role, with John Charles Thomas and John Brownlee as Athanaël. The opera was last seen at the Met in 1978 in a new production starring Beverly Sills in the title role and Sherrill Milnes as Athanaël. John Cox's new production will be the Met's fourth.
About the performers
Renée Fleming made her fifth Opening Night appearance at the Met this year at a gala created around her in which she sang staged scenes from three operas: Verdi's La Traviata, Massenet's Manon, and Strauss's Capriccio. For the first time, audiences in theaters throughout the Americas could see Opening Night as part of The Met: Live in HD series. When Fleming sang in this production of Thaïs at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2002, critic John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune wrote, "Fleming was Thaïs. Her alluring soprano proved as warm and voluptuous as the part requires, her legato sensuous, high notes pure and shining." Later this season in March, Fleming returns to one of her best known parts, the title role in Dvorák's Rusalka. She portrayed two Verdi heroines at the Met last season, Violetta in La Traviata and Desdemona in Otello, the latter a role she had not sung since 1995. She was Rosina in the world premiere of John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles (1991) and has also sung the title roles in three Met premieres: Carlisle Floyd's Susannah (1999), Bellini's Il Pirata (2002), and Handel's Rodelinda. (2004). In addition, she was the Countess Almaviva in Jonathan Miller's new production of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro (1998). In all, Fleming has sung more than 150 performances on the Met stage as well as numerous concerts with the Met Orchestra.
Baritone Thomas Hampson sang Germont in Act II of Verdi's La Traviata on Opening Night of this season. He reprises the title role in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, for which he is well known, in January. When Hampson played Athanaël in this production of Thaïs at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2002, Opera critic Lawrence A. Johnson raved that he sang with "unerring textual sensitivity and subtle dynamic shading without ever losing keen-edged dramatic force." Last season at the Met, Hampson was Don Carlo in Verdi's Ernani. He has portrayed the title character in two new productions here, Busoni's Doktor Faust (2001)-which had never been performed at the Met-and in Mozart's Don Giovanni (2004), directed by Marthe Keller. Since his 1986 Met debut as the Count in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, Hampson has sung 20 major roles in a diverse repertoire.
Michael Schade appeared at the Met last year as Tamino in Julie Taymor's production of Die Zauberflöte, a role for which Musical America says his "exquisite tenor makes him ideal." Schade made his Met debut as Jaquino in Beethoven's Fidelio in 1993 and went on to sing Alfred in Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus, Count Almaviva in Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and Don Ottavio in Mozart's Don Giovanni.
Jesús López-Cobos, the Music Director of Madrid's Teatro Real, returns to the Met for the first time since 2005, when he conducted Massenet's Manon. His other performances were in 1978, when he made his Met debut with Cilèa's Adriana Lecouvreur and conducted a new production of Donizetti's La Favorita with Luciano Pavarotti as Fernando. López-Cobos is also Music Director Emeritus of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, for which he served as Music Director from 1986 to 2001. Previously he was General Music Director of the Deutsche Opera Berlin and Music Director of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra.
About the production team
John Cox directed the Met's first-ever production of Richard Strauss's Capriccio in 1998. He also directed new productions of Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1982) and Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (1991), as well as a revised production of Massenet's Werther (1999). Internationally acclaimed for his work in opera, theater, film, and television, Cox has served as Glyndebourne's Director for Productions, Artistic Director of Scottish Opera, and Production Director at the Royal Opera Covent Garden.
Duane Schuler has created lighting designs for new productions of 21 operas at the Met, most recently for the world premiere of Tan Dun's The First Emperor in 2006. He was the lighting designer for the world premiere of John Harbison's The Great Gatsby (1999) and for four operas that had not previously been seen at the Met: Carlisle Floyd's Susannah (1999), Wolf-Ferrari's Sly, Bellini's Il Pirata, and WIlliam Bolcom's A View from the Bridge, all in 2002. Schuler has worked with opera, ballet, and theater companies around the world and is a partner in the theater and lighting consulting firm Schuler Shook.
Sara Jo Slate, who was both choreographer and solo dancer in the Chicago Lyric Opera production of Thaïs, makes her Met debut as choreographer. Slate, who teaches and performs belly dancing, is known as Zweena bint Asya in the world of Middle Eastern dance.
Live Broadcasts to be seen and heard around the world: Thaïs is being seen and heard by millions of people around the world this season in movie theaters, on the radio, and via the internet, through distribution platforms the Met has established with various media partners. The December 20 matinee is the fifth performance of the season to be transmitted as part of The Met: Live in HD series. TK person hosts the transmission, which is being sent to Europe, Australia, Africa, and Asia. Gary Halvorson is the HD director for Thaïs. The performance will also be heard live over the Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network.
The Metropolitan Opera Radio on SIRIUS channel 78 and on XM Radio channel 79 will broadcast the premiere on December 8 as well as performances on December 11, 20 , 23, and 30.
The December 8 premiere will also be available via RealNetworks internet streaming at the Met's web site, www.metopera.org.
Under the leadership of General Manager Peter Gelb and Music Director James Levine, the Met has a series of bold initiatives underway that are designed to broaden its audience and revitalize the company's repertory. The Met has made a commitment to presenting modern masterpieces alongside the classic repertory, with highly theatrical productions featuring the greatest opera stars in the world.
The Metropolitan Opera's 2008-09 season pays tribute to the company's extraordinary history on the occasion of its 125th anniversary, while also emphasizing the Met's renewed commitment to advancing the art form. The season features six new productions, 18 revivals, the final performances of Otto Schenk's production of Wagner's Ring cycle conducted by Levine, and two gala celebrations; the galas include the season-opening performance featuring Renée Fleming as well as a 125th anniversary celebration on March 15. New productions include the company premiere of John Adams's Doctor Atomic as well as the Met's first staged production of Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust since 1906, Massenet's Thaïs, Puccini's La Rondine, Verdi's Il Trovatore, and Bellini's La Sonnambula.
Building on its 77-year-old radio broadcast history - currently heard over the Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network - the Met now uses advanced media distribution platforms and state-of-the-art technology to attract new audiences and reach millions of opera fans around the world.
The Emmy Award-winning The Met: Live in HD series reached more than 935,000 people in the 2007-08 season, more than the number of people who saw performances in the opera house. These performances began airing on PBS in March 2008, and nine of these HD performances are now available on DVD. The most recent, The Magic Flute is released by the Met and will be available in mid-December at the newly renovated Met Shop in the opera house lobby. The other eight are on the EMI, Deutsche Grammophon, and Decca labels. In the 2008-09 season, the HD series expands to feature 11 live transmissions, starting with the Met's Opening Night Gala and spanning the entire season. The HD productions are seen this season in over 850 theaters in 28 countries around the world. Five new productions are featured, including the Met premiere of John Adams's Doctor Atomic. The Opening Night transmission was seen in the Americas only; the remaining ten high-definition productions are shown live worldwide on Saturdays through May 9 with encores scheduled at various times.
Live in HD in Schools, the Met's new program offering free opera transmissions to New York City schools in partnership with the New York City Department of Education and the Metropolitan Opera Guild, reached more than 7,000 public school students and teachers during the 2007-08 season. This season, Live in HD in Schools expands to reach schools in 18 cities and communities nationwide.
Continuing its innovative use of electronic media to reach a global audience, the Metropolitan Opera introduces Met Player, a new subscription service that will make its extensive video and audio catalog of full-length performances available to the public for the first time online, and in exceptional, state-of-the-art quality. During the first month of the new service, 120 historic audio recordings and 50 full-length opera videos will be available, including over a dozen of the company's acclaimed The Met: Live in HD transmissions, known for their extraordinary sound and picture quality. New content, including HD productions and archival broadcasts, will be added monthly.
Metropolitan Opera Radio on SIRIUS channel 78 is a subscription-based audio entertainment service broadcasting both an unprecedented number of live performances each week throughout the Met's entire season, as well as rare historical performances, newly restored and remastered, spanning the Met's 77-year broadcast history.
In addition to providing audio recordings through the new Met on Rhapsody on-demand service, the Met also presents free live audio streaming of performances on its website once every week during the opera season with support from RealNetworks®.
The company's groundbreaking commissioning program in partnership with New York's Lincoln Center Theater (LCT), provides renowned composers and playwrights with the resources to create and develop new works at the Met and at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater. The Met's partnership with LCT is part of the company's larger initiative to commission new operas from contemporary composers, present modern masterpieces alongside the classic repertory, and provide a venue for artists to nurture their work.
The Met has launched several audience development initiatives such as the company's Open House Dress Rehearsals, which are free and open to the public. Two are planned for the 2008-09 season: La Damnation de Faust on November 4 and La Sonnambula on February 27. Just prior to beginning the current season, the Met presented a free performance of the Verdi Requiem on September 18, in tribute to the late Luciano Pavarotti. Other company initiatives include the Arnold and Marie Schwartz Gallery Met which exhibits contemporary visual art; the immensely successful Agnes Varis and Karl Leichtman Rush Ticket program which provides deeply discounted orchestra seats two hours before curtain time; and an annual Holiday Series presentation for families. This season's special Holiday Presentation is Julie Taymor's production of Mozart's The Magic Flute, an abridged, English-language version of the opera which is given four special matinee performances and one holiday evening performance as a way for families to celebrate the holiday season.