Beverly Sills Index Page

Thas Recording Review


Opera News, December 11, 1976, p. 48 by John W. Freeman
with the air full of talk about a Massenet revival, we can only hope for a few more operas as well recorded as these. A surfeit would prove quickly tiring, but it is time for a fair representation. Much has been made of Massenet’s versatility in mastering large-scale opera as well as the intimate genre variety and even verismo. True, he was a master technician who could orchestrate atmospherically, support and use the voice to its best potential and sustain dialogue with a naturalness granted few other composers. But most of his music sounds the same: its basic texture is that of a water bed.

This leaves us with Thaïs, as good a vehicle as any for Beverly Sills, who studied the role with Mary Garden, who in turn learned about it from Sibyl Sanderson. There is a beat in some of Miss Sills’ sustained notes, but she tosses off Thaïs’ airier statements with convincing charm and conveys from the first the latent serious side of the character, which later gains dominance.

Sherrill Milnes’ Athanael is fanatical in its intensity: he creates a sort of French Jokanaan, showing what life in the Libyan Plateau can do to a man’s psyche. Nicolai Gedda brings similar, intelligence if somewhat less vocal security to bear on Nicias, while Richard Van Allan produces a sympathetic rather than authoritarian Palemon. In the contrasting female roles of La Charmeuse and Albine, Norma Borrowes warbles sweetly and Patricia Kern cuts a warm, down-to-earth figure that would be at home in Dialogues des Carmelites. Star of the occasion, pace Miss Sills, is Lorin Maazel, who bends his flashy talents toward bringing out the score’s richness and even plays (with a fine lack of sentimentality) the violin solo of the Meditation. If the result still sounds like the score for a silent movie, blame Massenet-or the tastes of an epoch that has blown away like the desert sands.