Georges Bizet’s The Pearlfishers is never going to be my favourite opera. Perhaps I was spoiled at age 25 having seen Bizet’s Carmen in an ancient arena in Verona, Italy, but it simply lacks the intensity that this kind of love story demands. Having said that, Opera Australia’s production of The Pearlfishers is a polished and accomplished piece of work. From performances to set design to choreography, it ticks all the right boxes for a thoroughly enjoyable night out at the opera.
Director Ann-Margret Pettersson has done an outstanding job with this opera, demonstrated in the way in which the cast deliver their astute performances. The issue I have with The Pearlfishers, though, is that the final act lacks the emotional charge that one rightly expects in a story where love and lives are at stake. When this opera should offer audiences an exciting crescendo, it simply meanders. This is a structural issue with this piece by Bizet. Fortunately, the second act saves this opera from being mediocre; it’s Bizet at his best and this opera is suddenly given the pulse that it needs to excite audiences. Put it this way, when you understand the context of an opera delivered in French without having to refer to the surtitles, then the score is in the heart of the opera. This act really is stunning.
As far as performances go, Emma Matthews who steps into the role of Leila is an absolute delight to watch in this production. She gives a well rounded performance with her highly skilled vocal ability duly matched by a wonderful character portrayal of Leila. When I was first introduced to Henry Choo as Nadir, I wasn’t quite sure if I could connect to his voice. But when Choo restrains his vocal delivery to convey intimate and delicate moments in the story, his exquisite tones will take your breath away. Luke Gabbedy who plays Zurga, although a little stiff in his character, meets his counterparts in terms of talent.
One cannot forget to congratulate the set designer John Conklin on this production. The set designs were masterly, so much so that I could almost have been back in that ancient arena in Verona. These kinds of designs are everything you expect from an opera: grandiose with depth, colour and textures that transports you into the story and make your heart sing. Beautifully executed. Well done.
Until 16 May, 2011