Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers by Georges Bizet with libretto by Michel Carré and Eugène Cormon opened Sunday, November 19 at the Civic Opera House Chicago, and will offer seven performances through December 10. The audience loved it. What was not to love? If one could suspend belief, there was so much to enjoy; the fabulous sets and costumes by Dame Zandra Rhodes, the exquisite voices, the orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis, conductor, the choreography, the lighting and the new-to-Chicago production was directed by Andrew Sinclair.
My Lyric Opera experience is enhanced by having a meal at the Florian Bistro Florian Opera Bistro I am always impressed by how accommodating they are, the lovely food and the ambiance. The air of excitement makes the opera experience even more pleasant.
I also enjoy the pre- opera lecture which offers the opportunity to gain additional insights into the opera I am about to see. These talks are very popular and the entire first floor was filled with others also wanting to learn more about the opera. Elinor Olin presented the pre-opera talk on this afternoon and shared insights about the opera and the composer that were fascinating.
For example, Olin referred to the four characters in the opera; Zurga, the leader of the fishermen, his long-lost childhood friend, Nadir, Leila, the veiled princess, and the high priest, Nourabad and then added the orchestra as a fifth character in that the orchestra interacts with the voice as a duet. In this production, I would also add the sets and design as an additional character because they were so important in emphasizing the magical fantasy of this opera.
I found the comparison the Olin shared between Mozart writing one hundred years before Bizet was intriguing. Both composers grew up in musical families and were child protégés excelling at the piano. Both only lived to the age of 35. Another point is that “The Pearl Fishers” predated “Carmen” by twelve years and was performed shortly before Bizet’s death.
The Pearl Fishers, written performed in 1863 was written when Bizet was only 25. It is beloved by audiences everywhere for its score, which includes the most popular tenor-baritone duet in opera. The duet on this night was beautiful and set the musical theme that runs through the opera. Set in ancient Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) in the ruins of a Hindu temple, Zurga (baritone Mariusz Kwiecień), leader of the parl fishermen, welcomes his long-lost friend, Nadir (tenor Matthew Polenzani). They reminisce about how years before their friendship was nearly ruined by a woman, but they vowed to remain true to that friendship. Unknown to Zurga, the veiled priestess Leïla (soprano Marina Rebeka ), now living in Ceylon, is the same woman who drove the two friends apart. When she is led into the temple by the high priest Nourabad (bass Andrea Silvestrelli) and Nadir sees her, his love for her reignites. Disastrous complications ensue. Marina Rebeka’s voice was exquisite and the aria which dialogues with the orchestra was a joy to hear.
This production was impressive in so many ways. There was Sir Andrew Davis’ conducting, the orchestra having an important role in this opera. It was directed by Andrew Sinclair. A truly special feature was the work of Dame Zandra Rhodes (Lyric debut) as set and costume designer. Lighting and special effect also played an important role with Ron Vodicka (Lyric debut) being the lighting designer. Lyric Chorus Master Michael Black prepared the 84-person chorus that took over the stage without overwhelming the performance. Both the beauty of their voices and the energy of the large number of people enhanced the performance. John Malashock’s (Lyric debut choreography was outstanding. Both the specific dancing and the use of poles as a form of dance were meaningful and again, enhanced the performance greatly.
The words of the lecture came to mind as the performance closed, suggesting that love and altruism are more powerful than rage and hate. After a rousing standing ovation, the audience stepped into the cold and out of the tropical paradise of “The Pearl Fishers”.
Performance dates for The Pearl Fishers are Nov. 19, 22, and Dec. 10 at 2pm; and Nov. 25, 29, Dec. 4 and 7 at 7:30pm. For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or go to lyricopera/PearlFishers website. Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Tickets start at $69.
Estimated running time is 2 hours 25 minutes, including intermission.