Thursday, October 21, 2010

Magpie 37

This week’s Magpie prompt brought back memories of a true love of my life, Renee Fleming, one of the greatest American sopranos.

(For some reason, Renee has never responded favorably to my expressions of devotion. Perhaps the fact that she never heard of me had something to do with it…)

At any rate, one of her finest musical efforts was the mirror aria from Massenet’s “Thais.” To understand this scene we must do some quick time-travel back a few centuries.

Thais was an actress who was also a courtesan; in those days they were often pretty much the same thing. I hasten to point out that a “courtesan” was not – or not exactly – a prostitute. The word refers to an intelligent and well-educated woman who lived what we might call today an upscale life, associating with wealthy and powerful men who provided her with both necessities and luxuries in return for, er, companionship.

In her profession, looks were important. They were just about everything. Thais speaks to her mirror.
Dis-moi que je suis belle.
Et que je serai belle eternellement!

Tell me that I am beautiful
And that I’ll be beautiful forever!

Que rien ne fletrira les roses de mes levres,
Que rien ne ternira l’or pur de mes cheveux!
Dis-le moi! Dis-le moi!

That nothing will cause the roses of my lips to fade,
That nothing will dull the pure gold of my hair.
Tell me! Tell me!


Massenet’s “Thais” mixes themes of religious longing with desire and lust, which happens, as you may have noticed, in quite a few other works of this kind. In this instance a monk, a holy man, takes it upon himself to save the courtesan. With his help, Thais feels she can finally find true love, not with men but with God. She becomes disillusioned because the monk, who insists that he loves Thais only in a spiritual way, comes to realize that his concern for her soul is not, and never was, entirely holy.

(I'd suggest you check it out on YouTube, but the sound quality of that system, when it comes to serious music, leaves an awful lot to be desired.)

21 comments:

kathew said...

now I will have to search out and see if I can find it at our library...thanks for the tip!

gautami tripathy said...

Interesting...

mirror at crossroads

kathew said...

ahah! I found it at our library and put it on hold! Yippee

Derrick said...

I saw the Met's production as a live broadcast last year. Great singing from them both!

Lyn said...

Renee Fleming seems so gifted in every way..Just reading your descriptions takes my breath away..thanks...

Rene/ Not The Rockefellers said...

Renee is quite beautiful. I have never been to the opera but I am intrigued by the story of Thais.

Berowne said...

Kathew: "thanks for the tip!"
Thanks for the comment. :-)

Berowne said...

Derrick: "I saw the Met's production as a live broadcast last year."
Yes, some of those live broadcasts are fantastic.

OJ Gonzalez-Cazares said...

Thanks for the opera advice again - I am writing it down to look for it on DVD; it is also nice to know that a courtesan was not a prostitute, but more like an European Geisha, whose history I find quite interesting!

Pauline said...

very informative - thanks!

Teresa said...

What an interesting take on the prompt! Fascinating.

Berowne said...

Pauline: "very informtive - thanks." Teresa: "What an interesting take on the prompt! Fascinating."
Thanks for your friendly comments.

Berowne said...

OJ Gonzalez: "...not a prostitute, but more like an European Geisha."
That would appear to be very true. Thanks.

Elizabeth said...

Oh Berowne, such a beautiful lady as Renee Fleming is,her sumptuous voice, consummate artistry, and compelling stage presence would be an ideal complement to your suave good looks, intellegent demeanour and sophisticated outlook.If only she knew of your presence, I'm confident that the happiness of you both would be complete. I suspect that Thais would have come running to hear of such devotion from a man...;-) x

Berowne said...

Thanks, Eliza. I've always thought that Renee and I would make a great couple. Of course, there's always the possibility that she might not agree. :-)

helenmac said...

Thank you, thank you for spreading the word about my favorite soprano. And helping others catch the opera fever. We saw the HD broadcast of Thais from the Met, too. And have every CD we can find of her.
HelenMac, ABC team

Claudia said...

wow - this was interesting - i for sure will have a look at utube..and..she IS beautiful

Karen S said...

You know, I've had the same problem with Paul McCartney that you have had with Renee -- he's never heard of me. I wish I could boast of more high-brow tastes, but alas, I guess I'm a product of my generation. My mother and grandmother loved opera and my mother (who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket) loved to sing along with her records. So I'll check out the You-Tube stuff. Thanks.

kathew said...

ok- I picked up the CD at the library...holy mackrel! Renee has an incredible voice! Thanks for the great post!

Doctor FTSE said...

Erudite and informative as ever. Thank you. (I always like to hear the "Meditation" from "Thais" It is regularly played on UK Radio station Classic FM.)

Berowne said...

My thanks for great comments from Doc FTSE, kathew, Karen S, Claudia, helenmac, Rene and Lyn.

 
Blog designed by Blogger Boutique using Christy Skagg's "A Little Bit of That" kit.