Stefano Poda's production of Thaïs at the Teatro Regio of Turin is lushly staged, with rich costumes, impressive sets, interesting lighting. But the production itself falls flat, largely because this opera, whose story centers on the beguiling allure and fleshly attractions of its title character, does not emphasize that aspect of the story. Rather Poda seems to be going for something more philosophically profound than a story of sin overcome by religious conversion. We get the conversion without much evidence of the sin. (Where is Carol Neblett's scandalously unclad San Francisco Opera Thaïs when we need her?) First of all, Barbara Frittoli, quite a physically attractive soprano, is given little to do to make use of her innate beauty. Rather, she and the other prostitutes are clothed in black floor-length gowns which completely cover their bodies and lend little to the notion that she and they are physically irresistible. The whole production involves characters moving with marmoreal slowness and interacting little with each other, and there is some evidence to suggest that they don't understand the contents of the libretto. For instance, when Athanaël, the Cenobite monk, is, according to the text, being dressed more appropriately for the party at his friend Nicias's house, he doesn't change his attire or his appearance. The whole production comes across more as a staged oratorio. That plays up the religious aspects of the story but it makes Thaïs's ultimate religious conversion seem unsurprising rather than shocking.
Barbara Frittoli sings beautifully. Her spinto voice has many colors and she uses them skillfully. Indeed it is her musical participation that contributes most to whatever satisfaction one derives from the production. The Georgian bass-baritone, Lado Ataneli, certainly looks the part but his performance is rather colorless and uninflected; there is little passion in the last act. (One is struck that Ataneli's surname is so similar to that of his character, Athanäel. I wonder if that has anything to do with his having learned the part?) Tenor Alessandro Liberatore sings a fine Nicias. Choreography was also by Poda and it was both dull and intrusive; for instance, the score clearly indicates that the famous 'Meditation', marked 'religious', is to be played in front of the curtain. Instead the stage is filled with dancers doing nothing special nor specially religious. Gianandrea Noseda is in the pit and leads a slowish but nicely nuanced performance.
I have not seen the DVD of Thaïs starring Eva Mei, a soprano whose acidulous voice I cannot endure; I gather that production has not been much admired by others. And as far as I know that one and this production are the only DVDs of Thaïs available. In the meantime stick with the audio recording of the opera with Renée Fleming and Thomas Hampson, and hope that the Met's fine production of 2008 (with Fleming) makes it to DVD.
Total time: 139mins; Sound: PCM stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1; Subtitles: French, English, German, Italian, Spanish; Format: 16:9; Region code: 0 (worldwide)