Project report: Massenet’s ‘Thérèse’ comes to light

by Kevin St. Clair

Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience:  you hear a recording or performance of a little-known opera and find yourself enchanted by the beauty and power of the music.  You ask yourself why this piece isn’t better known, why opera companies have neglected it – and you wonder if there’s something you can do to share this piece with others who may appreciate it as you do.

Such is the case with The Thérèse Project.  All of us involved have fallen in love with Massenet’s gorgeous music, his immensely gratifying vocal writing, his keen sense of musical dramaturgy as exemplified in this remarkable yet relatively unknown piece.  Rather than lamenting the economic realities that prevent major opera companies from reviving works such as Thérèse, we simply took it upon ourselves to introduce the work to West Coast opera lovers through as series of self-produced performances.

Our first performances will be presented on April 24, 2013 at La Sierra University in Riverside, and April 27 at Pasadena City College.  These will be presented in concert format with piano accompaniment and will include English supertitles.  Future performances of Thérèse are already being planned for the summer and fall of 2013; these will be the first staged versions of the work presented in the US.  Our plans for The Thérèse Project extend into 2014 with performances outside the Los Angeles area and will include full orchestral accompaniment – the first time the work will have presented outside of Europe with Massenet’s orchestration.

The driving force behind The Thérèse Project is Aram Barsamian, a respected LA-based baritone, teacher and lover of all things Massenet.  Aram helped produce the first US performance of Thérèse and shares his thoughts below on the genesis of the project:

The year 2012 marked the one-hundredth anniversary of Jules Massenet‘s death.  This fact went largely unnoticed by the music world, so I decided to commemorate it in my own way.  In 2007, I had sung a slightly abridged Thérèse  in New York (unwittingly celebrating the 100th anniversary of the opera’s world premiere), and I recalled the warmth and enthusiasm with which the audience received the opera.  This experience called to mind the warm reception of my productions of two other operas by Massenet: Cendrillon (2004) and Thaïs (2006), which I had the pleasure of directing at La Sierra University.  Thus, I decided to produce a complete concert version of Thérèse here in California.  I invited the singers in our cast to consider joining me in this venture and they all graciously agreed to donate their services so that we could present this gorgeous, exciting opera at La Sierra University and Pasadena City College.

It’s not often that one can participate in operatic history in the making, so I readily agreed to participate when Aram asked me to come on board with the project.  But what I was unprepared for was how much this piece would move me, how Massenet’s music would work its way into my heart even as I worked it into my voice.  The opera is in two acts, features only three main characters and is less than 90 minutes in length – making it especially well suited to performance in concert format.  I know that there’s no shortage of operatic performances to enjoy in Southern California, but I urge you to spend an evening with us in the company of this gorgeous and immensely satisfying work.

Visit the website for The Thérèse Project

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