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Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Sex vs. Redemption: Desert Cage Match

Polytheists never win in opera. I'm not sure why they try. Tonight was our exchanged performance of Thais (can't get the I double dotty thingy up there). We were supposed to go in December when we were on our cruise and then I cleverly exchanged the tickets for a night when I had to teach. Needless to say, I blew off a class to see Renee Fleming. Worst. Teacher. Ever.

I'm not very conversant with French opera and I don't know Massenet's work at all, so I wasn't sure what to expect from this.

Renee was outstanding as always. The girl's got pipes, even if she does need (for ludicrous values of need) a body double for ecstatic visionary belly dances. A baritone male lead is always a plus with me, and the fact that Hampson's Athanael was nowhere in the neighborhood of sucking was an added bonus. I didn't care for the tenor singing Nicias, but that was my only complaint with the performances.

The staging was, overall, impressive, if insufficiently baffled. I've never heard a desert so loud. Nicias's and Thais's homes were sumptuous in a weirdly appropriate 70s sort of way. The walls and floor were large blocks of purple, blue, and turquoise. The wall of the staircase had a texturing that mimicked the dunes from Acts I & III, but the tighter wave pattern gave it the feel of a much more dramatic topography in the interior. The bed was raised on a deep purple two-tiered dais and was made up with the requisite scarlet bedding. I thought the chairs ringing the bed like a stage were a nice touch, but I'm not sure what to make of the portholes in their backs. My major criticism of the set design came in Act III. Someone should have paid a little more attention, because the wall suggesting the cloister was far too small and radically out of period and geographical context. It came off looking like Barbie's first Spanish style mission.

In the end, I apparently liked both the opera and the performance better than much of the audience, judging from the comparative emptiness of the balcony by Act III. Their loss, though; the duet in Act III, scene i was positively sublime. I guess the moral of the story is sex sells; redemption not so much. Pretty ironic as morals go.

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