Jules Massenet: Thaïs
(Renée Fleming, Thomas Hampson, Giuseppe
Sabbatini, et al.; Bordeaux Aquitaine Orchestra; Yves Abel, conductor)
Too long considered a throwaway among Massenet's operas ("We'll just keep the 'Meditation,' thank you"), "Thaïs" has more to offer than your regular dose of fin-de-siècle, sentimental exoticism. All of this becomes clear from the intensity that Fleming invests in the title role, while Thomas Hampson's tragic monk (a tormented Tannhäuser in reverse) makes for much memorable vocal acting.
(Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, et al.; Brussels Theatre de la Monnaie Chorus and Orchestra; Antonio Pappano, conductor)
Thomas Beecham once stated that he would "happily give up all the Brandenburg Concertos for 'Manon.'" In the title role, Angela Gheorghiu pulls off a spectacular triumph that would have made Beecham only intensify his hyperbole. This new recording is also another winner for some of the most visible names in opera today, including Robert Alagna (as the aristocratic des Grieux who becomes humanized through his suffering) and Covent Garden conductor Antonio Pappano.