Jarriett Johnson in the New York Post:
Massenet wrote “Thais” for a beautiful American soprano from Sacramento, soprano Sybil Sanderson, and last night history was remade with a different twist. A beautiful soprano-actress from Brooklyn, Beverly Sills, took on the part of the alluring courtesan-turned-nun and by her voice and her mesmerism we believed she was Thais. We loved her, we wept for her and we empathized with her implausible story. This fascinating, courtesan, (who is out of history) – in our story lived in Alexandria during the 4th century. She became influenced by the monk Athanael’s stern plea that she renounce her ways. She did. She was certainly no 20th century rebel. . . .
Geraldine Farrar and Maria Jeritza have been other famous Met Thais and Mary Garden sang the role at the Manhattan Opera House in 1907.
I can’t believe, however, than any of these made the role any more their own than Miss Sills did last night. She was wonderful and she had every help possible from a strong supporting cast. Sherrill Mimes was magnificent as Athanael, the monk who almost sadistically browbeat her to renounce her frivolous life; then, at the end, realized too late how much he madly desired her as a woman. . . .
As women were not string beans in Massenet’s time (Thais’ premiere was 1894) nor in 4th century Egypt, the curves of Miss Sills’ very good figure made her even more believable. Director of the production Tito Capobianco, who has worked with Miss Sills many times before, knew how to set those curves off to perfection whether in bed or out. Meanwhile, Toms had her costumed with a chiffon-layered look in back, but with a bare midriff in front so she ended up dazzling both ways. One of the most compelling sections was during the playing of the famous “Meditation” when normally the curtain is closed. Thais is supposed to be making up her mind whether or not to renounce her ways.
Met concertmaster Raymond Gniewek played the piece superbly with luscious tone and relaxed bow arm. Meanwhile, Gigi Denda, special choreographer for Miss Sills, had her dancing through a hall of paneled mirrors moving from one panel to another and seeking her reflection in each. A couple of live reflections come along, one a grotesque caricature of herself. So she gave up her loose ways. The scene is exotic, meaningful and illusory, enhanced as it is by the lovely “Meditation” which is like a leitmotif as we hear it several times again used significantly.
Happy 77th birthday soprano Katia Ricciarelli.
On this day in 1907 the Metropolitan Opera premiered Puccini’s Manon Lescaut with the composer in attendance and Lina Cavalieri and Enrico Caruso on stage.
Birthday anniversaries of composer Emmanuel Chabrier (1841), composer Berthold Goldschmidt (1903), conductor János Ferencsik (1907), and soprano Marianne Schech (1914).