‘The Pearl Fishers’ Revue Shows Bizet’s Genius at Sarasota Opera House
George Bizet’s “Carmen” is one of the most popular operas of all time with a lively and unforgettable score. This weekend, the Sarasota Opera opened its production of Bizet’s “other” opera, “The Pearl Fishers”, remarkable in its own way for its beauty.
Set in a coastal fishing village in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), it was not just the perfect set design that captured this exotic location. The score is from another world, with an often hypnotic lyricism when well supported by the beauty of the main voices.
Nadir (tenor Andrew Surrena) arrives to find his old friend Zurga, the village king (baritone Kyle Oliver). Together, they tell the story of their friendship and their fall in love with the same woman. The music and lyrics of this duet – “Au fond due Temple Saint” (“In the inner sanctum of the Holy Temple”) – carry the cores of the entire opera.
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Surrena makes an immediate impression with her big, bright voice and agility. Oliver fits him well, but with a little less weight. It is only in Act III that we are driven from our seats by his force and his anger.
Act I, however, is filled with explanatory action when the temple maiden Leila (soprano Hanna Brammer) and the high priest commanding Nourabad (bass-baritone David Weigel) arrive and Nadir sings his soliloquy about hearing the voice of his love, “I believe to hear again” (“I believe to hear again”). Melodically haunting and in the hands of a tenor with a pleasant voice like Surrena, this aria leaves the audience transfixed.
Then we hear the memorable voice of this young girl. Even behind a veil, Brammer’s voice shimmers and shines as she prays “O God Brahma”, showing flexibility throughout her range.
The chorus of apprentices and workshop artists while villagers and fishermen play an important musical role in this opera from start to finish. Bizet uses them skillfully and provides a sumptuous feast in the blend of singing voices on and off stage and separated by male and female vocals. The chorus of this production deserves to be featured as a lead.
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However, it is Brammer’s lyrical beauty that reigns supreme throughout the second act. In “I was still a child” (“I was still a child”) – describing how she once risked her life for a fugitive – and “As before in the dark night” (“Here I am alone in the night” ), Brammer serves up consistent vocal splendour. Alone as with Surrena, she is a convincing actress. Their love duet “Léïla, Léïla! Mighty God, behold! (“Mighty God, there he is!”) rises to the heavens.
As a priest, Weigel doesn’t have a major singing role, but his character’s mere presence, his upholding of strict law, and his deep voice smack of menace. Rightly so, because death is in the cards for the two lovers.
When Léïla begs for Nadir’s life in Act III, Brammer and Oliver portray the tense side of their characters. The shifts between anger and compassion are evidenced not just by the music, but also by the body language Oliver conveys as Brammer’s fervent pleas fuel the situation. the end.
The action and pacing throughout the opera are skillfully managed by director Katherine M. Carter. There’s also a lot to argue with the sizable chorus.
Set design by J. Michael Wingfield includes temple ruins, statues, and a surprisingly modern looking tent for Zurga quarters.
The lighting design by Ken Yunker provides things like a night sky with twinkling stars, a milky way, fierce storms, and a glow of fire.
Howard Tsvi Kaplan’s costumes for the villagers and the two heroes are humble but well detailed. Only our temple virgin in an emerald-colored sari stands out.
Kudos to conductor Marcello Cormio and choirmaster Lindsay Woodward for bringing together the supporting musical forces. Bizet’s orchestration of the score relies heavily on English horn, oboe, flute and harp solos, all perfectly placed.
Although “The Pearl Fishers” is not Carmen, you owe it to yourself to hear Bizet’s genius in the Sarasota Opera House’s production of this operatic gem.
“The Pearl Fishers”
Until March 19. Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. More information at sarasotaopera.org or 941-328-1300.