Spain Massenet, Thaïs: Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu / Patrick Fournillier (conductor), Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 4.3.2017. (JMI)
Thaïs – Nino Machaidze
Athanaël – Plácido Domingo
Nicias – Celso Albelo
Palemon – Damián del Castillo
Crobyle – Sara Blanch
Myrtale – Marifé Nogales
Albine – María José Suárez.
La Charmeuse – Mercedes Arcuri
Servant – Marc Pujol
The Liceu has programmed two concerts of this Jules Massenet opera with the aim of having Plácido Domingo in the theatre once again (he has performed here for 51 years). And, as has happened over and over again in recent years, the performance served as a way for the audience to pay a genuine homage to Mr. Domingo. He achieved the difficult task of having the house completely sold out, and received a standing ovation at the end of the concert. On top of this his presence turned the Liceu into a kind of United Nations, with a large number of foreign visitors in attendance.
Thaïs is one of the best and most popular among Massenet’s operas. True stars are needed on stage, which happened in Barcelona 10 years ago when Renée Fleming appeared in the title role. That concert was a major success, and this was again the case in Barcelona last night.
The musical direction was in the hands of Patrick Fournillier, who is familiar with the works of Massenet and has already conducted Thaïs with Plácido Domingo as Athanaël in Los Angeles, Salzburg and Valencia. He is a real guarantee in this repertoire and proved it once again. His reading was perfectly suited to the requirements of the score, while taking good care of the singers. There was a strong showing by the orchestra, which is clearly improving; one should single out the interpretation of the famous Meditation by concertmaster Kai Gleusteen. There was also a solid performance from the chorus.
Although I have no doubt that it was the presence of Plácido Domingo that brought Thaïs to the Liceu, it seems fair to start by referring to the protagonist who gives the opera its title: in this case, Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze. It is not the first time that she has joined Mr. Domingo in this opera; she sang the role in Seville in October 2012. Nino Machaidze was a convincing interpreter of the courtesan turned into a saint, and had no major problems in reaching the high D. At the beginning she showed an excessive vibrato, but that was moderated as the concert advanced. I did miss more contrast between the courtesan of the beginning of the opera and the servant of God in the final part.
Of Plácido Domingo it is not easy to say anything that is not already well known. Indeed, he is a miracle of nature, possibly unmatchable: his vocal freshness at 76 and his enviable form are not easy for simple humans to understand! He is a singer who is beyond the category of tenor or baritone. His Athanaël showed that he belongs to a special group of artists, and there are few of them in the history of opera.
The presence of tenor Celso Albelo as Nicias was a luxury, since this somewhat secondary character sings little beyond the first act. Damian del Castillo was good as Palemon; he is not the bass that the character requires, but he has an attractive voice. María José Suárez repeated her fine performance as the Abbess Albine. Both Sara Blanch as Crobyle and Marifé Nogales as Myrtale were impressive, and Mercedes Arcuri was well-suited to the role of La Charmeuse.
José M. Irurzun