ALBUM TITLE: Bizet
WORKS: The Pearl Fishers
PERFORMER: Diana Damrau, Matthew Polenzani, Mariusz Kwiecien´, Nicolas Teste; Metropolitan Opera/Gianandrea Noseda; dir. Penny Woolcock (New York, 2016)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 9029589361; Blu-ray: 9029589360
A century after Enrico Caruso, Giuseppe De Luca and Frieda Hempel adorned the Met’s first and only previous production of Les pêcheurs de perles, Bizet’s ‘other’ opera returns to New York in Penny Woolcock’s thoughtful production.
First seen in London at English National Opera, Woolcock’s Pearl Fishers reveals itself as more than its much-loved duet for tenor and baritone, ‘Au fond du temple saint’. Updated to Sri Lanka and located in a shanty village clinging to the seashore, Woolcock finds a double drama in Bizet’s opera. It’s not simply the love triangle between the priestess Leïla, the village headman Zurga and his best friend Nadir but also the history of a community constantly threatened by a violent and capricious ocean.
The tide ebbs and flows throughout the production from the spectacular opening effects of a man and a woman diving for pearls to a tsunami that rolls in on the village. The sea is as evident in the music, Gianandrea Noseda drawing sumptuous playing from the Met Orchestra, which positively shrieks with apprehension when Leïla, newly arrived in the village, is left alone at night by her shrine.
The Met fields a magnificent cast. Matthew Polenzani is a puppyish Nadir who visibly and vocally matures into a man overwhelmed by love; while Mariusz Kwiecien´’s Zurga clearly relishes power – and indeed jealous revenge when he discovers the truth about Nadir and Leïla’s relationship. The two men sing their celebrated duet as a subtle, thoughtful exploration of a friendship that they have suddenly rediscovered. But it’s Diana Damrau’s Leïla who steals the audience’s hearts. Her Act I aria ‘Comme autrefois dans la nuit sombre’ seems to float above the ocean beyond her shrine while her appeal to Zurga to spare Nadir’s life would make the very pebbles on the seashore weep.