Bizet (Les) Pêcheurs de perles
Has anyone, I wonder, found a way that really works of ending this opera so that the final curtain leaves the audience feeling as they should? It doesn’t happen here, though this is a now-favoured version in which Zurga is left alone on stage. I don’t know: it’s a more appealing idea (less melodramatic, and it ought to be moving to see him as a noble tragically isolated figure, awaiting an unknown future after letting the lovers escape); but there isn’t time, or music, for it to work. Perhaps the old, corny notion of bringing the villagers back from the fire, angry and vengeful, is more effective after all. It does matter, because the opera is such a joy up to the last scene.
I’m afraid I also think that for it to work its spell visually, the setting needs to give some feeling of the island. It can perhaps do without sea, but, oh, how we long for a few trees! This production has (most conspicuously) a temple and an orange-coloured saucer-shaped rim, on which much of the action is played. It’s better, I would say, for dancing than for sleeping on, and all three main characters at some point or other are required to lie and sleep…and sing.
Of the singers, the baritone satisfies most completely; Annick Massis, the Leïla, floats her soft notes beautifully but her tone lacks the grip and body it needs, especially in the duet with Zurga. The tenor, Yasu Nakajima, supports his softened tones remarkably well in ‘Je crois entendre encore’ (sung in the original key), but is often throaty and furry. Luca Grassi has a fine voice and an impressive stage-presence: more of him.
The chorus sing well but have been neglected by the producer. The late Marcello Viotti is a sympathetic conductor, and the orchestra play well. Some imaginative camera-work too.