(by Georges Bizet) (Met, March 2016)
Time to fess up: I love The Pearl Fishers – unlike that other Brahmin-inspired piece, Lakmé, it does not cloy; it is not kitsch. It is a lovely piece, with pretty music, a good tight love-triangle plot and whilst there are not many polyphonic moments (apart from the famous piece, Au fond du temple saint, where the two fishermen declare their totally, okay – not totally – counterfeit affection), there are great declamatory solos and tremendous choral parts. I’ve loved it ever since I snapped up a cheap box of records of the production by Theatre National de L’Opéra-Comique, conducted by André Cluytens.
This Met production is the first they’ve done of Pearl Fishers since Caruso, 100 years ago. It looks great: the fishing village is just right; Zurga’s office is a Kafkaesque paradise, a hulking prison-ship of paper and filing cabinets. The intervening wave scenes, and Act II tsunami, are sensational. The fiery finale is most satisfying. But the revelation in this exquisite staging, by Penny Woolcock, is the free-diving introductory montage in which two or three pearl divers appear to descend from the top of the stage and swim about in a swarm of oxygen bubbles+. It is quite beautiful and even the great Michael Tanner, who is a bit too snippy about this opera, admits that this sublime scene “would be the first scene of Das Rheingold of my dreams…“*
We have praised the chorus. The four leads are terrific: Diana Damrau’s Leïla manages the intricate demands of her role and plays it beautifully; Matthew Polenzani (looking a bit like Mark Ruffalo) is fine as her lover, Nadir; Mariusz Kwiccien is good as the nasty Zurga, redeemed in the last reel, and Nicolas Testé, looking a bit like Terence Stamp in Superman, but in a toga, magisterial as Nourabad. Gianandrea Noseda conducted superbly. A top production.[*The Spectator. I don’t think Mr Tanner saw the Elke Neidhardt Ring…] [+Cut and paste this address into your search engine to see the freediving visions in rehearsal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7GxQTgxoKM]