Review: Les Pêcheurs de Perles

Pêcheurs de Perles

A rare Bizet at the Met! I’ve been immersing myself in obscure opera over the last couple of years, giving myself a crash education in forgotten corners of this gloriously gaudy art. Getting to know the French repertoire in detail has been one of this process’s greatest pleasures, and seeing a rarely performed Bizet work in its first Met production in over 100 years is icing on the cake.

Originally set in ancient Ceylon, Les Pêcheurs de Perles tells the story of Leïla, a beautiful Hindu priestess pursued by two close friends who become rivals for her love. The piece is for better or worse a big hunk of Orientalism. British director Penny Woolcock attempts to address that by setting the story in a poverty-ridden slum of today’s coastal Southeast Asia. I’m not sure that helps, particularly.

The Orientalism is, thank goodness, in the final analysis window dressing for a pretty straight ahead love triangle. This production was spurred by soprano Diana Damrau’s love of the role of Leïla, and indeed it fits her rich coloratura voice like a velvet glove. Mariusz Kwiecien here plays Zurga the more politically powerful of her suitors, with great dignity.

The other suitor, Nadir, is a dreamer, and Matthew Polenzani sings the role with a remarkable floating, billowy tenderness. I’d love to hear him do opera from the classical period, say Mozart or Gluck.

Projection design firm 59 Productions can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. They set the highly-innovative gold standard for projections, and their work here is pretty powerful, finding new and exciting way to communicate the awesome and terrifying power of the ocean.

Conductor Gianandrea Noseda is a master of late Romantic color, and that mastery is on luscious display here. His account of the music is simultaneously grandiloquent and tight, giving in to Bizet’s surging beauty – it’s all very theatrical and lavish, as one always wants at the opera. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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