Renée Fleming has reached that apex of divadom where she sings mostly the role of Renée Fleming. To help flesh out the character (and show off her Lacroix gowns), the Met has imported the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Thaïs. The setting is early Christian Egypt, the story easily told: Monk meets courtesan. She sees the light; he feels her heat. Mortification of the flesh ensues (belly dancing, too). John Cox sets this eroto-sacramental tale on a bed of wooden dunes, over which he has Fleming stumble fetchingly from palace to mud-walled convent.
In return for the Met’s willingness to revive an opera for which nobody clamors, Fleming sings with more focus and less fussiness than in recent years. Her voice’s candlelit glow blends with a score that curls in sweet, smoky clouds, then dissipates without ever assuming a recognizable shape. Baritone Thomas Hampson is less suited than ever to this vaporous stuff. His intelligence and musicality remain, but they must now be discerned behind a volley of tough and sloppy sound. The best moment came with the curtain down, when concertmaster David Chan sent a sensitive performance of the famous “Meditation” floating up out of the pit.
By Jules Massenet
At The Metropolitan Opera. Through January 8th.