Thaïs at Gothenburg Opera – synopsis
Composer and librettist
Musik: Jules Massenet|Lyrics: Louis Gallet after a novel by Anatole France.
First performance: Paris, Grand Opéra 16 mars 1894. Swedish premiere: Stockholm, Operan 2 december 1912.
ACT 1 Scene 1
The religious order has gathered for,a ceremony, and is worried that the “chosen” brother Athanaei is not present. On his arrival their worries escalate when they can see how disturbed he is. His worries for his former hometown, now overtaken by decadence and an erotically charged diva cult, give him no peace. His thoughts are down more and more to the “priestess” of the love godess Venus that is poisoning the town with her beauty, luxurious lifesryle and sexual digressions, the diva actress Thais. Ever since he once in his youthful innocence was almost captured in her web of love she has haunted his dreams. As in a nightmare he sees the theatre with its aroused audience, all filled with desire for Thais.
Despite abbot Palemons warning that he can lose his peace of mind merely by visiting this town, he resolves to go to rescue Thais from further disgrace, and the town “from the evil she does, and the wickedness of its demons”. With his help Thais will become the bride of Jesus and none other. In order to reach her he goes to Nicias, an old fellow student from his earlier life.
Nicias, now one of the town’s prominent, decadent and cultivated citizens, happens to be Thais’ lover – for a week- and tonight will be their last encounter. Athanael is invited to meet her at the party following the performance. Nicias’ two “persian slaves” Crobyle and Myrtale, provide Athanael,with clothes that will allow him to blend in, but Nicias warns him: “Be fearful of Venus, she will be avenged”.
The first encounter with Thais is very charged. When she beomes aware of Athanael’s mission she too warns him or the Venus goddess with the words “I believe only in love, noneother has power over me (…) You man, created to love, what a mistake you make”. Athanael leaves, but tells Thais that he will find her the next morning.
ACT II Scene 1
Thais, tired from the performance and party, is enjoying her soltude, without “indifferent, brutal men and wicked women”.However, shes finds no inner peace or feelings of happiness.When she contemplates time and the onset of age she becomes more worried and invokes the Venus goddess. Athanael enters. He first pays tribute to her beauty and tells her that he loves her, although “not in the vay you think”. With the promise of eternal happiness of a more divine nature he finally succeeds, with Thais appeal to the Venus goddess to entice her over to his side.
Niceas voice is heard ouiside. Thais declares that their lifestyle is of a superficial kind.She fights a final inner battle regarding who she is,and what she wants to be.
Thais gives herself over completely to Athanael,who is to take her to a convent. There she shall he isolated in her cell “until Jesus comes to free her”. Before they sat off Athanael wants Thais luxurious dwellings to be burnt to the ground.She asks to keepher statue of Eros, as a reminder of how she has misinterpreted love. But when she tells that it is Nicias who has presented it, Athanael angrily smashes the statue.
Nicias and friends are on their way home and run into Athanael. A heated discussion about Thai’s’ destiny ensues. Thais friends and followers do not want her to leave them, and become even more enraged when they see the fire. Nicias distracts them by showering them with the gold he has won during the nights games. Athanael and Thais flee as Thais home goes up in flames.
ACT III Scene 1
Athanael and Thais have wander through the desert to reach the convent. The sun, the heat and the sand have almost broken Thais, but Athanael present, as usual, the suffering as the real, penance-making happiness. They are now by an oasis. The blood is dripping from Thais feet and she is humble. Athanael wants to kiss her feet clean of blood, to stay a little longer by the oasis…
Scene 2 and 3
The nuns from the convent interrupt the idyll, lead by the abbess Albine.She embraces Thais who leaves Athanael together with the sisters. She shall not see him again “until in heaven”. Athanael is suddenly filled with torment as he realises that he shall never see Thais again.
Athanael is back with is brothers,who are now more worried than ever. Athanael neither eats nor drinks. He is haunted by longing,,, sees only Thais beaty in his mind´s eye. In a dream he hears that Thais is dying and wants to go to her. Too late he realises that “nothing exizts without life and the love of the living”…
Translation Pernille Kraft