Utah Opera’s maiden production of Massenet’s “Thaïs” beguiles eyes and ears

Sun May 05, 2024 at 12:41 pm
Nicole Heaston stars in the title role of Massenet’s Thaïs at Utah Opera. Photo: Dana Sohm

Jules Massenet’s Thaïs has finally made it to the Capitol Theatre’s stage. The French composer’s three-act opera had its Utah Opera premiere Saturday. The production closes out the company’s season in a powerful staging featuring a strong cast, with soprano Nicole Heaston outstanding in the title role. 

The opera’s basic plot has been used in various iterations in countless other operas, but Thaïs adds a new layer. The monk Athanaël makes it his mission to save Thaïs from her life as a courtesan and devote herself to God. But doing so also destroys Athanaël. He rejects his life as a monk as he, against his will, falls passionately in love with Thaïs, professing his love for her as she lies dying. Thaïs responds to him by speaking of the love for God that she now has, saying that she is ready to be received by the angels in Heaven.

Heaston showed herself more than up to the challenges Massenet demands in the role of Thaïs. She has a remarkable range and can sing with power, but with a well-modulated tone and a rich palette of expressions. Her voice is always lyrically vibrant, even in the high notes. And she brings a depth to her portrayal that is utterly convincing — whether as the courtesan in the first act, singing of the pleasures she enjoys, or as the new convert to Christianity, sincere in her religious convictions.

Baritone Troy Cook cut an impressive figure as the ascetic monk Athanaël. He brought an honesty to his portrayal in the opening act, when he convinced his fellow monks that he is the only one who can convert Thaïs. Cook’s rich, full-bodied voice lent itself perfectly to the role. He sang with carefully crafted lyricism and nuanced expressiveness. He and Heaston were well matched vocally: in the duets, their voices blended and contrasted with subtle colorations and well-defined inflections.

Also in fine form Friday was tenor Dominick Valdés-Chenes as Nicias, Athanaël’s childhood friend and Thaïs’s lover. He, too, sang with well-defined expression and rounded tone. His characterization underscored the wantonness and opulence of his life, almost to the point of caricature, and contrasted starkly with his old friend’s seriousness and religious devotion.

Among the smaller roles, Jasmine Rodriguez as Crobyle, Sarah Scofield as Myrtale, and local favorites Seth Keeton as Palémon and Aubrey Adams-McMillan as Albine were all outstanding. Katrina Galka gave a tour de force performance as an alluring La Charmeuse, seducing everyone with her coloratura voice.

In the numerous dance sequences, the eight dancers of the Repertory Dance Theatre shone with their artistry, dancing with captivating grace and nimble athleticism. The Utah Opera Chorus once again showed that they are indeed a finely honed ensemble, singing with depth and expression, worthy partners to the soloists. 

Members of the Utah Symphony, under the baton of conductor Steven White, played with their usual well-defined musicianship. White’s choice of tempos and stage director Andrea Cigni’s pacing allowed the action on stage to flow naturally and effortlessly. Sets and costumes for this production are by Minnesota Opera. The costumes and setting for the scenes with Nicias and his entourage were rich and lavish, contrasting starkly with the simple black attire of the monks and their austere monastic setting.

Thaïs runs through May 12 at the Capitol Theatre. utahopera.org

One Response to “Utah Opera’s maiden production of Massenet’s “Thaïs” beguiles eyes and ears”

  1. Posted May 05, 2024 at 8:05 pm by Carol Anderson

    Concertmaster Adkins’ rendition of Meditation brought the house down too. Simply exquisite!

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