Pearl Fishers Review

Pearl Fishers Review

If it did not include one of the most popular of all operatic lollipops – the tenor-and-baritone duet Au Fond du Temple Saint – surely no one would bother too much with The Pearl Fishers. It would be consigned to semi-obscurity, along with Bizet's other lesser known stage works such as Ivan IV and La Jolie Fille de Perth (a far more convincing piece dramatically), leaving Carmen the only regular in the repertory.

The Pearl Fishers a Photo of Amparo Alabau in the Leading Role of Valencia

The Pearl Fishers a Photo of Amparo Alabau in the Leading Role of Valencia

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But it does contain that duet, and so companies feel obliged to put the work on stage every so often, regardless of its cringingly awful libretto, cardboard-thin characters and scarcely credible plot. Bizet's tunes are good, but what connects them isn't, and many directors have resorted to introducing extra silent characters, in an attempt to shock the piece into dramatic life.

In her new production for English National Opera, Penny Woolcock doesn't do that, save for having a couple of gawping tourists wander through the opening act. But then western tourists would be part of the landscape in the contemporary Asian fishing village (present-day Sri Lanka presumably, as the opera's original setting is Ceylon) that Woolcock and her designer Dick Bird create here, with its shanty-town houses, reinforced concrete and razor wire. There is probably some admirable political point to the updating – about developing-world poverty, global warming and rising sea levels – but The Pearl Fishers is an awfully rickety framework on to which to construct any kind of extra-musical argument, especially when Woolcock does nothing to make the piece dramatically convincing. If anything, it further undermines the opera.

Entire Pearl Fishers review

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