“The 2008 debut of this production (which uses Massenet’s revised score) originated at the Lyric Opera of Chicago with Renée Fleming paired with Thomas Hampson. She could hit all the notes, and so can Pérez.

The soprano’s sound was rounded and lustrous all afternoon, the sheer loveliness emphasized by the feeling that she was extending sustained notes just a little longer so the ear could linger, before her vibrato kicked in.

There was no strain to her high notes. Rather, there was a certain display of muscularity that elicited the intuitive excitement of being in the presence of pure power. And that was secondary to her long phrases, full of small inflections that showed character and mood, from the confident flirtations of “Qui te fiat si sévère” to the sublime focus and gentleness of her last lines in “C’est Toi, Mon Père.”

“Dis-moi que je suis belle,” the Act II “Mirror” aria, was marvelous. When Thaîs sings to the crowd (onstage and in the audience), she needs to invigorate and dazzle. In this scene, which opens the act, she becomes a three-dimensional character. Pérez seemed to hold time in her hand, the measures going past but the expression concentrated on unveiling the layers of her personality.

Finley delivered a performance that had a subtlety almost never seen on the operatic stage. He projects a sense of seriousness in all situations, and his Athanaël was cold and dour, the kind of man who becomes a monk precisely to enjoy the mortification of the flesh.

This is true to the character, who struggles with his impious attraction to Thaïs and transforms it into contempt for her and her world. But Finley was more than this, he was like a grim, iron block.”

George Grella – New York Classical Review

“The voice must be heard.”

For the last two years, this has been the calling card for the Metropolitan Opera’s marketing department, a call to just come and listen to opera as it is intended to be. An invitation to experience something that can’t be experienced anywhere. For many, that tagline has been particularly emblematic of the vocal wizardry that has been apparent throughout the first moments of the 2017-18 season. And the new run of “Thaïs” that just opened on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, certainly fits that bill and so much more.

The voices must be heard. The orchestra must be heard. The experience must be felt. All those also work for this remarkable production that featured some of the finest casting of any Met production in recent history alongside a conductor suited perfectly for Massenet’s music …

In the leading roles, soprano Ailyn Pérez and baritone Gerald Finley were both making their role debuts as Thaïs and Athanaël, respectively. Pérez’s interpretation of the heroine emphasized her alluring and seductive qualities, her voice vibrant with a relaxed and confident quality. Her initial vocal lines were deliciously sung, the legato elegant. You could immediately feel why this particular character was so iconic to those around her. As she taunted Athanaël in an ensuing scene, she threw off Massenet’s sunny melodic lines with corresponding vocal quality, the climax of the scene featuring an astounding high note sung from a platform. If first impressions are everything, then Pérez had her audience won over.

But from there, the composer digs deeper into his lead character, challenging the diva to enter into her tortured state as she questions the person she is and the one she aspires to be. The soprano’s initial lines in “Dis-moi que je suis belle” seemed to hint at frustration over her worthless life, the initial repetitions of that very line tainted with growing frustration. One sensed restlessness growing over the character, but in an insightful twist, Pérez moved in the opposite direction with the constant repetitions at the end of the aria. Instead of growing more insecure, suddenly Thaïs grew more secure, each repetition brighter and more confident in sound, the end of the aria emphasizing that she was ready to embrace her current life and deal with it. With this in mind, her ensuing confrontation with Athanaël had greater tension and her confused ravings at the close of the scene became all the more complex.

When we next see her, Thaïs has already opted for a life of religious servitude and here Pérez allowed her voice to slowly but surely darken and even lighten. Her singing remained refined throughout, but it had a more ethereal quality, the color of her sound a far cry from previous scenes, marking the shift in the character. One could almost feel the character starting anew. As Thaïs grew into her new role, her voice regained in strength, the sound fuller than at any point in the entire opera; this came to its apex in the final duet where the soprano effortlessly built to cathartic high Ds (though she didn’t hold them for much). For a role debut, it was a rather insightful and mature performance through and through.”

David Salazar – Operawire

Ailyn Pérez did exactly what she should do: walked on stage and took over. From her first breath, the voice caressed, seduced – but, most importantly, demanded attention. I’m not sure that Pérez was actually several decibels louder than everyone else, but she might as well have been: you couldn’t stop concentrating fully on her whenever she sang, and were rewarded by the most luscious of timbre, utter security in the high notes and full commitment to the role.”

David Karlin – Bachtrack

“Thaïs has some technically difficult arias, such as “Dis-moi que je suis belle,” to which Pérez brought a lustrous tone, some impressive high notes and convincing acting.”

Barry Bassis – The Epoch Times

“In the title role, soprano Ailyn Pérez has all the glitz and sensuality required, and something more—a human quality, with wit and tact. She made a smashing entrance in a tight strapless gown (designed by Christian Lacroix), merging brashness and charm in her teasing encounter with the evangelizing Athanaël. She clearly understood how far to take her character’s erotic appeal without crossing the line to vulgarity. Her Act II soliloquy winningly reflected the dissatisfactions and vulnerability that prepared the way for religious conversion … her poised, radiant tone in Act II and her graceful way with French parlando proved her suitability to the role.”

David J. Baker – Opera News

“That “Thaïs,” in Mr. Cox’s unabashedly campy production, resonated with this “Mother” is largely because of the restraint of its stars, Ailyn Pérez and Gerald Finley, and the sensitivity of its conductor, Emmanuel Villaume … they compensated with accuracy, intelligence, earnestness. They chose to play actual people rather than caricatures, a decision that made the charged interactions this agonized man and this misunderstood woman feel surprisingly — and, in today’s world, uncomfortably — real.”

Zachary Woolfe – The New York Times

“Ms. Pérez made a strong first effort in the challenging title role … Her performance culminated in a desert apotheosis in the work’s final scene, what is effectively the third of the opera’s three endings.”


Photo: Chris Lee / The Metropolitan Opera