'''''Thaïs''''' () is an opera, entitled 'comédie lyrique' in three acts and seven tableaux, by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Louis Gallet, based on the novel ''Thaïs'' by Anatole France. It was first performed at the Opéra Garnier in Paris on 16 March 1894, starring the American soprano Sibyl Sanderson, for whom Massenet had written the title role.Boyden, p. 392 The opera was later revised by the composer and was premiered at the same opera house of the original version on 13 April 1898.
The work was first performed in Italy at the Teatro Lirico Internazionale in Milan on 17 October 1903 with Lina Cavalieri in the title role and Francesco Maria Bonini as Athanaël. In 1907, the role served as Mary Garden's American debut in New York in the U.S. premiere performance.
''Thaïs'' takes place in Egypt during Byzantine rule, where a Cenobite monk, Athanaël, attempts to convert Thaïs, an Alexandrian courtesan and devotee of Venus, to Christianity, but discovers too late that his obsession with her is rooted in lust; while the courtesan's true purity of heart is revealed, so is the religious man's baser nature. The work is often described as bearing a sort of religious eroticism, and has had many controversial productions. Its famous ''Méditation'', the ''entr'acte'' for violin and orchestra played between the scenes of Act II, is an oft-performed concert music piece; it has been arranged for many different instruments.
After ''Manon'' and ''Werther'', ''Thaïs'' is one of Massenet's most performed operas, but it is not part of the standard operatic repertoire. The role of Thaïs, similar to another Massenet heroine also written for Sybil Sanderson, ''Esclarmonde'', is notoriously difficult to sing and is reserved for only the most gifted of performers. Modern interpreters have included Carol Neblett, Anna Moffo, Beverly Sills, Leontyne Price, Renée Fleming, and Elizabeth Futral.Occhietti, Serge (10 janvier 2009). - [http://polyscope.qc.ca/spip.php?article903 La magie de l'opéra]. - ''Le Polyscope''.Tommasini, Anthony (December 9, 2008). - [http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/10/arts/music/10thai.html "One Diva to Another: This Role Is Divine"]. - ''The New York Times''. Géori Boué was the first to record the opera, in 1952.