BIZET The Pearl Fishers
From Naples comes a less than sharp revival of Bizet’s best nearly-nearly opera. The Pearl Fishers is always worth hearing for its gorgeous tunes and the composer’s most individual selection of a libretto’s conflicts that inspired him – jealousy under the shadow of death, as usual, in the lead and clearly anticipating the Carmen of some 11 years in the future.
Unfortunately, this predictable-looking traditional production – ye olde imaginary Ceylon on beach bleachers costumed in yards of Indian over-material with tubes of dark tan make-up on the skin – uses the version of the score popularised (and cannibalised) after Bizet’s death by his publishers. The main theme of that duet (‘Au fond du temple saint’) is not only repeated as the climax of the number itself in Act 1, instead of the development Bizet wrote, but frequently revived thereafter as a kind of ersatz Fate motif. Its other crimes include changing the tempo of the Act 2 chorus finale and inserting a (very Victorian) trio by Godard into Act 3, although the staging here does spare Zurga an added grisly death.
Like the opera itself, all comes to life on this DVD at ‘je reste’, when Patrizia Ciofi’s Leïla – a fluent and fluid display with beautiful tone of the score’s tricky coloratura – declares her intention to stay watching over the pearl diving despite being compromised by the presence of potential lover Dmitry Korchak’s Nadir. The Russian tenor has a good lyric voice for the part but some trouble early on with Bizet’s higher-lying phrases, which also discomfort his rival Dario Solari’s Zurga, again a mostly apt voice for the role. Gabriele Ferro’s conducting subtly maintains the tension of the evening without histrionics. The chorus and some rather unfit-looking dancers seem some way from their best. Not too many rivals in the field, but for DVD Dynamic’s Venice Pier Luigi Pizzi production is in better shape and the old, strongly cast Plasson EMI recording provides a worth-hearing reconstruction of Bizet’s original.