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.)
1 year ago