Note: I own nothing. I make no money out of this. I just want to share pieces from one of my favorite albums.
Most people consider Renee Fleming the gold standard for Thais but Beverly Sills is no slouch either. Despite her age, her voice is still amazingly bright and agile--each note a delicate piece of crystal--and she takes all the high options without the slightest bit of shrillness. And her performance isn't sheer vocalism either; she's not afraid to employ sound effects or emphasize certain words to make the character more flesh-and-blood. I love how she chuckles when she's teasing Athanael and the way she grits the words "Pitie! Pitie!" when she throws herself at his feet begging for mercy after he reveals himself to her in the second act. Her performance becomes more soft and ethereal towards the end, as she adds more pianissimo, indicative of the character’s new-found peace and healing.
But as great as Sills is, Sherill Milnes is the real star of the show. He simply dominates the opera with his dramatic firepower and charisma as the holy fool Athanael who somehow sees and speaks deep truth while hiding a dark secret at the same time. You could feel the revelation coming to light and yet he never gave it away too early thanks to his superb acting combined with Louis Gallet’s masterful libretto. Technically, his robust voice is more suited for Verdi and Puccini than Romantic French but it still works in context of the character because after all, Athanael is a voice CRRRRRYYINGGGG IN THE WILDERNESS!!!!!! If Anatole France’s novel was adapted to film instead of opera, Athanael would probably be played by Charlton Heston.
Nicolai Gedda is often considered the weak link in this set, but I find his voice engaging as always, even if the vibrato is a little wider than usual. If anything, the timbre is richer and darker than it was in his earlier recordings and his upper register is still bright and free.
If there IS a weak link, it is Lorin Mazzel. Sometimes he’s having a little too much fun with the rubato and dramatic flourishes as if he’s conducting Richard Strauss instead of Jules Massenet, but it’s easy to get carried away with an opera as beautiful and moving as this.
Watch videos with other singers performing Qui te fait si severe:
Qui te fait si sévère Et pourquoi démens-tu la flamme de tes yeux? Quelle triste folie te fait manquer à ton destin? Homme fait pour aimer, quelle erreur est la tienne! Homme fait pour savoir, qui t'aveugle à ce point! Tu n'as pas effleuré la coupe de la vie! Tu n'as pas épelé l'amoureuse sagesse!
Assieds-toi près de nous, couronne-toi de roses; Rien n'est vrai que d'aimer, tends les bras à l'amour!