Great Performances at the Met: The Pearl Fishers

Great Performances at the Met: The Pearl Fishers

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 1:00pm - 3:30pm

Pictured: Diana Damrau as Leila in Bizet's The Pearl Fishers

Credit:  Kristian Schuller/Metropolitan Opera

Bizet's sweeping romance tells the story of a beautiful Hindu priestess pursued by rival pearl divers competing for her hand.

The Met's acclaimed production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers (Les Pêcheurs de Perles), a rarity by the composer of Carmen that has not been staged by the company in a century, comes to Great Performances at the Met on Sunday, July 15 at 1 p.m. on WXXI-TV.  Diana Damrau leads the cast as the priestess Leïla, opposite Matthew Polenzani as Nadir, Mariusz Kwiecien as Zurga, and Nicolas Testé as the high priest Nourabad.

The 1863 opera premiered at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris, 1863. Critics at the time were not especially enthused but the audience was swept up in the ravishing score tinged with the allure of a mythical South Asian setting. The drama itself remains within the conventional standards of the day, with a love triangle complicated by the true friendship of the two men involved in it.

The opera was originally set in Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) in non-historic “ancient times,” signifying an exotic land with a mythical and romantic aura. The Met’s new production places the action in an unspecified locale in the Far East.

In addition to its striking lyrical expression, the score is filled with surprising and delightful features throughout. The important role of the chorus is evident from the opening number, with its extraordinarily beautiful middle section for men’s voices. The orchestral writing is equally sophisticated, especially in the subtle touches of instrumentation. But it is the remarkable solos and ensembles that have made the opera impossible to forget, chief among them the celebrated duet for the tenor and baritone, “Au fond du temple saint.” Its abundant melody miraculously encompasses a profusion of diverse sentiment, from religious ecstasy to exalted friendship to sadness and loss.