A question of piousness versus lax morals

A Christian monk, Athanael, a hermit in the endless desert of Egypt in the 4th century AD, is obsessed with a famous actress and courtesan of the time, Thais. That is the starting point of Jules Massenet’s opera «Thais,» which opened on Saturday at the Athens Concert Hall. Based on a novel by Anatole France, Massenet’s work, written in 1894, seems strangely contemporary regarding its theme and its music. With the French composer’s inspired melodies, the plot focuses on Athanael’s efforts to draw Thais away from the earthly pleasures of Alexandria and bring her to God. But his secret passion for the sensational courtesan makes him go to extremes. «Athanael is a confused man,» said British baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore, who alternates in the male lead, to Kathimerini. «He sees religion as an escape from reality. He denies himself the right to happiness. That is why he is a deeply angry man.» One cannot help but wonder if in the end Thais finds inner peace. «It depends on how you see it,» said Michaels-Moore. «The music is peaceful, but Athanael ends the opera in an atmosphere of silent despair. I think that they are both miserable, each in their own way.» «Religious extremism and the lax morals, which are both issues that this work deals with, are also very contemporary issues,» conductor Michel Plasson told Kathimerini. «This is one of Massenet’s more ‘French’ works, the music expresses his inner drama. It is for that reason that Andre Malraux said that only music can talk about death. It expresses things that cannot be said. That is why it is the highest art.» Performances of «Thais» in the Athens Concert Hall’s Alexandra Trianti Hall will take place tomorrow and Wednesday as well as Friday to Sunday. Acclaimed sopranos Marlis Petersen and Elizabeth Futral alternate in the part of Thais, while Michaels-Moore shares the role of Athanael with George Mosley. In addition to Plasson, Miltos Logiadis is also conducting the Orchestra of Colors. The cast further features tenor Antonis Koroneos as Nicias, soprano Irini Kyriakidou as Crobyle, soprano Vassiliki Karayianni and others. The opera is directed by Arnaud Bernard and the sets have been designed by Nikos Petropoulos. Athens Concert Hall, 1 Kokkali & Vas. Sofias, tel 210.728.2333.

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