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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Les Pêcheurs de Perles

Pretty Yende takes a dive as the Met revives Bizet's early opera.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Soprano Pretty Yende returns to the Metropolitan Opera.
Photo by Hao Zeng, originally published in Essence magazine, © 2015.

The Met revives one of its surprise hits of the 2015-16 season. Les Pêcheurs de Perles is a product of Bizet's youth but features the same blend of exoticism and solid musical construction that would make Carmen an international sensation ten years later.


What is Les Pêcheurs de Perles?
This is the second opera by French composer Georges Bizet, who would achieve posthumous immortality with Carmen. The title means The Pearl Fishers which is how it is usually referred to by people who can't pronounce "pêcheurs."

What's the story?
On an exotic seashore on the island of Sri Lanka, Zurga and Nadir are  two guys who work as pearl fishers. They are reunited, joyfully, which ends when they discover that both of them are in love with the same girl. She is Leila, a virginal Hindu priestess who saved the life of Zurga many years before. This love triangle ends, as operas do, with violent consequences and much heartbreak.

Tell me something else interesting?r li
The libretto of The Pearl Fishers was considered, at the time of the opera's premiere in 1863 to be particularly weak. Librettist Eugéne Cormon later commented that if they had known how good Bizet's music was, they would have crafted a stronger story!

What's the music like?
It's Bizet, so the music is gorgeous and lyric. Although the role of the priestess Leila is demanding for a principal soprano with a supple upper range, it is the famous tenor-baritone duet "Au fond du temple saint" that is the big hit from this score.

Who's in it?
Soprano Pretty Yende is the virginal Leila. Tenor Javier Cammarena and baritone Mariusz Kwiecien are the two fellas. Emmanuel Villaume, who led the premiere of Tosca last season, conducts.

How's the production?
Penny Woolcock's production was first seen at the English National Opera, and offers the exotic locales of "somewhere in the Far East" through the eyes of western theater.

When does Les Pêcheurs de Perles open?
The revival opens Nov. 14 and runs through December 8.

Where do I get tickets?
Tickets are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save some money on service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza.

Box office hours are: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recordings do you recommend?
Les Pêcheurs de Perles is not as frequently performed as Carmen and has a correspondingly small discography. The old EMI label, which specialized in French opera recordings over its long history, has released a number of recordings over the years with sopranos like Ileana Cotrubas and Barbara Hendricks in the key role of Leïla.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.