Monk and the rose

Updated 2018-01-16 10:36:02 China Daily

The opera Thais features spectacular sets of symbolic elements, such as the statue of the Roman goddess Venus. (Photo provided to China Daily)

The National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing will stage Thais as its first opera of the year.

The three-act opera to be performed over Feb 2-6 was composed by Jules Massenet, with the libretto by fellow Frenchman Louis Gallet.

The opera was inspired by an old French novel by Anatole France, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1921.

Premiered in 1894 in Paris, the opera's story follows that of the book-the journey of a monk named Athanael who lives in 4th-century Alexandria, Egypt, and tries to convert a courtesan called Thais to Christianity, only to find himself succumbing to her charm.

"For a long time, Thais was one of the most popular operas. But from the middle of the 20th century, it slowly sank into oblivion," says NCPA opera consultant Giuseppe Cuccia.

But in recent years, the work has seen a revival with many major opera houses including it in their repertoire once again.

"It is hard to imagine an opera that is more in line with the times, with its hunger for luxury, striving for beauty and longing for eternal youth on the one hand, and its religious asceticism and fanaticism on the other hand," Cuccia says.

The creative force behind the NCPA's version of Thais is Argentine director Hugo de Ana, who is also the set and costume designer.

Known for his spectacular sets and a regular guest at the world's most prestigious opera houses, De Ana has previously directed NCPA's other productions such as Giuseppe Verdi's opera Macbeth and Antonin Dvorak's opera Rusalka.

He uses symbolic elements such as the statue of the Roman goddess Venus with a broken face, a crown hanging in the air and a sloping section of stage made up of broken pieces of wood.

"The opera follows the monk's journey. So we use multimedia to show the moving scenery," says the director. "For the audience, watching the opera is also like experiencing a journey (both) about the salvation of the soul and earthly lust."

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