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The opera Thais is generally considered one of Massenet's finest works, although it is not as well known today as his Manon and Werther. Based on the popular novel by Anatole France, the opera's libretto was written by Louis Gallet. It is set in fourth century Egypt and tells the story of a Cenobite monk, Athanael, who is obsessed with the beautiful courtesan, Thais. He sublimates his longing by converting her to Christianity and delivering her to a monastery. He then realizes that he has lost her forever.
Massenet composed the opera for the American soprano Sibyl Sanderson, who had previously achieved success in performances of his Esclarmonde. The first performance took place at the Paris Opera on March 16, 1894. The vibrant score, with its mysticism and oriental influences, reveals Massenet's brilliance as an orchestrator. The opera features a major ballet in Act Two. The juxtaposition of religious fervor and erotic tension inspired Massenet to compose some of his most sublime melodies, including the famous Meditation for solo violin, which first appears as a musical interlude in Act Two. The theme returns more than once in the opera and is used in the final duet between Thais and Athanael. The desperate monk returns to the monastery where he has previously led Thais in order to confess his love for her. He finds her near death, focusing only on her future life in heaven.
This arrangement comes with an optional bass part for use with string orchestra.
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