Bizet: The Pearl Fishers (DVD)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bizet
LABELS: C Major
WORKS: The Pearl Fishers
PERFORMER: Patrizia Ciofi, Dmitry Korchak, Dario Solari, Roberto Tagliavini; Teatro di San Carlo Chorus & Orchestra/Gabriele Ferro; dir. Fabio Sparvoli (Naples, 2014)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 719508; Blu-ray: 719604

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The Pearl Fishers is widely known for that duet. But ‘Bizet’s other opera’ has other highlights, including the nostalgic tenor aria ‘Je crois entendre encore’ and the soprano’s ‘Comme autrefois’. Its mildly exotic/erotic Oriental atmosphere is a gift to an imaginative producer, as ENO’s recent staging brilliantly demonstrated. Fabio Sparvoli’s, from the San Carlo, Naples, is somewhat more staid – rolling sands, ruins and half-buried idols, and a Buddhist interpretation that sits oddly with the explicitly Hindu setting, especially when the chieftain Zurga, instead of being lynched for freeing the lovers, simply slopes off ‘to pursue enlightenment’. By today’s standards, though, this is a minor liberty.

The performances are mostly more than acceptable, despite some truly appallingly accented French – Patrizia Ciofi’s Leila the honourable exception. Her clear, incisive soprano catches Bizet’s floating line and liquid coloratura with fluent ease, and she seems a touch mature only in close-up – alongside the youthful Dmitry Korchak, a fine lyric tenor needing only a little more power. Dario Solari’s gruff-toned Zurga is less impressive, and Roberto Tagliavini too baritonal for the basso priest Nourabad. Chorus and orchestra are well handled by Gabriele Ferro, and the recording is excellent, especially on Blu-ray.

The only previous DVD, from La Fenice, Venice (Dynamic 33459) offers almost as decent a performance, with a less good tenor but with Annick Massis’s fine young Leila, and using Bizet’s original score. San Carlo uses the tinkered-together Choudens (Bizet’s publisher) score, with the final-act duet and ending recomposed by someone else – and yes, even that duet. But it’s actually this Choudens version that everybody knows. Bizet originally ended his duet with tinklingly conventional couplets, and to my mind the Choudens reprise of the big theme works better. So if it’s the familiar duet you want, go for this new recording.

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Michael Scott Rohan