This Saturday afternoon, Ailyn Pérez becomes just the sixth soprano in Metropolitan Opera history to take on the role of Massenet’s “Thaïs.”
The opera doesn’t have a particularly massive history, sung just 73 times with the company in 100 years, the first performance coming all the way back in February 1917. Here is a look at all the other major divas to take on the iconic role at the historic company.
The soprano was the first to interpret the courtesan, performing the role for the company’s premiere back on Feb. 16, 1917. She would go on to sing it 19 times in her career, her final performance coming on April 5, 1919. She didn’t draw the greatest of reviews for her debut in the role, though the review from the Brooklyn Eagle did note that, “she sang with real beauty of tone and expression” in the final act of the opera.
Jeritza was the second singer to follow Farrar as a leading interpreter with the Met, singing the opera a total of 20 times in her career, more than any other soprano in the company’s history. She first sang the role on Dec. 14, 1922 and would sing it for the last time on Jan. 13, 1926. On the occasion of her final performance, Oscar Thompson of Musical America stated that “Mme. Jeritza sang the music of the religieuse demurely and sweetly.”
Helen Jepson would be the third Thaïs in Met history, singing the opera for the first time on Feb. 10, 1939. Of her first performance of the role, Lawrence Gilman of the New York Herald Tribute noted, her interpretation “is visually lovely and engaging, gracious in aspect and pose and gesture.”
She would sing the role just five times, her final one coming on March 30, 1939.
The great pioneer would be the one to revive the opera for the first time in almost 40 years to great acclaim. On the occasion of her Jan. 18, 1978 performance, Harriett Johnson of the NY Post noted, “A beautiful soprano-actress from Brooklyn, Beverly Sills, took on the part of the alluring courtesan-turned-nun and by her voice and her mesmerism we believed she was Thais. We loved her, we wept for her and we empathized with her implausible story.”
She would sing the role 17 times at the Met, all of them in 1978.
The great American diva took on the role for the first time on Dec. 8, 2008, singing it for just one season, her final performance, her 10th, coming on Jan. 8, 2009. Anthony Tommasini of the NY Times noted, “Ms. Fleming justified the company’s faith by delivering a vocally sumptuous and unabashedly show-stealing Thaïs.”
Pérez will sing a total of seven performances this season. This will be her first time singing the role in her career.