Living in the shadow of its much more famous sister opera Carmen, Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers has been in the unenviable position of being judged next to this masterpiece.
However, as much as Carmen is Bizet’s best opera, with a perfect dramatic arc and an evocative Spanish flavor, The Pearl Fishers is definitely Bizet’s second-best opera (and an excellent one at that!) with a just-as-wonderful dramatic arc and an evocative Oriental flavor. There are arguably as many (if not more) beautiful melodies in The Pearl Fishers as in Carmen, and the duet between Nadir and Zurga is the most famous tenor/baritone duet in the canon.
I love conducting The Pearl Fishers, as it is musically, harmonically, and orchestrally so inventive. With his arias, duets, and choruses that are so evocative and powerful, Bizet perfectly captures the mood of Orientalism that was so “in vogue” in Paris at the time. The emotional love triangle between Leila and her two suitors is presented realistically, even as Bizet creates an exotic mystery around the priestess, which he manages to build up for almost an entire act before she appears: veiled and chaste, yet sensuous and feminine.
Andrew Sinclair’s production is so vibrant and honest, exotic and raw, and tautly dramatic. The fact that he chose to cut the final trio in order to achieve a faster, more intense dénouement that catapults us into the final tragedy of the work, is a brilliant solution that completely solves the issue of dramatic flow for a 21st-century audience. Conversely, the fact that we also present the Act Three Leila/Zurga duet (depicted in the photo above) in its uncut version heightens the drama and the danger of the situation in a way that you just can’t achieve without the original music!
Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers is a wonderful, exotic, powerful opera with well-drawn characters and a beautiful score from beginning to end. I hope you will enjoy the opera as much as I will enjoy conducting it for you!
Conductor Antony Walker is the Music Director at Pittsburgh Opera and Artistic Director at Washington Concert Opera. He debuted with Lyric Opera of Kansas City in The Pearl Fishers, at the Kauffman Center.