Metropolitan Opera presents ‘The Pearl Fishers’ in Breckenridge | SummitDaily.com

Metropolitan Opera presents ‘The Pearl Fishers’ in Breckenridge

Elmer Koneman and Cecile Forsberg
Special to the Daily

The Metropolitan Opera High Definition broadcast of Georges Bizet's opera, "The Pearl Fishers," will be held at the Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge, Saturday, Jan. 16. The opening curtain is scheduled for 11 a.m. The last Metropolitan Opera production of "The Pearl Fishers" was in 1916, with Enrico Caruso as the lead tenor. This current production, described as being "sensitive and insightful," was performed during the 2010 season at the English National Opera in London.

The director and choreography designer for this Metropolitan Opera production is the British director and filmmaker, Penny Woolcock. In the current production, Woolcock brings the title of the opera to life with opening theatrical magic, transforming the stage into a murky expanse beneath the sea. Behind a scrim, video projections and lighting effects by Jen Schriver present three actors dangling from unseen wires, costumed by Kevin Pollard as traditional pearl fishers, who swim and dart about in the waters searching for oysters in the sea bed.

The original story of the opera was originally set in ancient Ceylon. This has been updated in the current production to what may be a modern day village in Bangladesh or Indonesia. The current production opens with a chorus impersonating the local people of the pearl-fisher community, where divers risk their lives in search of precious gems. The chorus voices their fears of the sea intermixed with expressions of religious beliefs that dominate the community practice and rituals to chase away evil spirits. A beautiful Hindu priestess, Leila (sung by soprano Diana Damrau) comes among them to pray for good fortune. Appearing also is Nourabad, the high priest, performed by Nicolas Testé, who joins Leila in a vigil ceremony.

The story of the opera moves along rather rapidly. Leila, the priestess, is pursued by rival pearl divers competing for her hand. From opposite sides of the stage in Act I appear Zurga, sung by Mariesz Kwiecien, after being chosen as the pearl fishers' leader, and a foreign hunter, Nadir, performed by Matthew Polenzani. When they recognize each other, together they perform, "Au fond du temple saint," acclaimed as perhaps the best known duet for two male voices in the entire operatic repertory. Although both have had previous affections for Leila, for the sake of their friendship, they vow in this duet to forget her.

As with most operas, neither was able to do so. In the second act, while Leila is spending a night outdoors, reminiscing about a necklace once given to her when she sheltered a fugitive, Nadir's voice is heard in the distance. They soon join in a duet declaring their love for one another. A threatening storm drives Nidir away, only to return shortly thereafter captured by a search party led by the priest, Nourabad. As punishment, he pronounces death for both lovers. Zurga rushes in intending to reverse this order, only to agree as he recognizes the necklace he once gave her, as Nourabad rips off Leila's veil.

In the last act, Zurga contemplates forgiveness for Nadir and Leila. When she pleads for Nadir's life, Zurga recants. The act ends at sunrise when the natives celebrate the coming sacrifice with drinking and dancing. Glow lighting the sky is not the sun rising, but the light of their burning village that Zurga had lit. Zurga, recognizing that his fate lies in the betrayal of his own people, frees Nadir and Leila, showing her the necklace.

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In opening performance reviews, co-conductor Gianandrea Noseda was credited with "finding musico-dramatic meaning in orchestral passages and in coaxing extra fire from the Met Opera chorus." His modulating the tempos throughout the score "brought out the most of what's there." Across the board, the singers were also acclaimed for "word-sensitive performances with clear delineation between public and private moments. Characters are only as interesting as their secrets." Experiencing this new opera promises to be a real New Year's treat for all in attendance. Snacks and beverages will be served during the single intermission.

The Met Opera is a partnership between Colorado Mountain College and the National Repertory Orchestra. Elmer Koneman is a volunteer and opera enthusiast; Cecile Forsberg is the artistic and operations director with the NRO.

IF YOU GO

What: Metropolitan Opera HD presents “The Pearl Fishers”

When: Saturday, Jan. 16, 11 a.m.

Where: Colorado Mountain College, 107 Denison Placer Road, Breckenridge

Tickets: Student $10 / Senior (65+) $16 / Adult $20; nromusic.com or call (970) 453-5825