Opera Company of Middlebury, which has gained a reputation for staging opera's rarely produced masterworks, brings fourteen professional singers to the area this month to present Massenet's sublime THAÏS. The piece, which includes the famous violin solo "Mediation," will be given five performances from tonight, June 8 to 16 at Middlebury's Town Hall Theater.
Though the opera is set in decadent Alexandria, Egypt, in the 4th Century A.D, director Douglas Anderson has relocated this production to the present day. "It's not so much the need to make the piece relevant," he explains. "It's rather the challenge of depicting a decadent society that is spiraling downward because of sensationalism, hedonism and a lack of standards. We don't have to look very far to see that in aspects of our own society."
The story centers on Thaïs, a performer and sex goddess whose free sexuality has had a profound influence on her world. ("Not unlike Madonna or Marilyn Monroe," says Anderson.) The monk Athanaël is appalled by her behavior and makes an attempt to rescue her from her corrupt life. Surprisingly, he succeeds. But in the process, he falls in love with her. "This tension between the sacred and the profane gives this opera enormous depth. It's about redemption, and it's about passion. Every moment of this opera is dramatically charged."
The title role is sung by soprano Melissa Shippen, a Juilliard graduate making her debut with the company. Winner of first prize in the Viotti International Vocal Competition and district winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, she brings a brilliant, warm soprano to this extremely challenging role. Playing opposite her in the role of Athanaël is baritone Joshua Jeremiah. His recent work includes productions with the New York City Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, and Bard SummerScape.