BWW Review: THE PEARL FISHERS at Adelaide Festival Theatre
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 12th May 2018.
Georges Bizet's three-act opera, The Pearl Fishers (Les pêcheurs de perles), to a libretto by Eugène Cormon and Michel Carré, is the latest production from the State Opera of South Australia. The award-winning Australian playwright and director of theatre and opera, Michael Gow, directed this production, bringing out all of the passion and romance in the opera's exotic setting. Interestingly, he makes the three men non-indigenous, suggesting the power of colonial rule. Originally, Nourabad was a high priest of Brahma, and Nadir and Zurga were fishermen. This is another Opera Conference production, the result of collaboration between several Australian opera companies.
Conductor, Graham Abbott, stepped in at a moment's notice to take over as conductor of this production in Queensland, and he brings that invaluable experience to bear on this production. As usual, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra acquits itself superbly, responding to his acutely insightful interpretation of the rich score, from which he achieves a wonderful balance between and within the various sections and brings out all of the intricacies and subtleties in Bizet's music. The State Opera Chorus, too, is at its very finest, although one cannot help but wish that Gow had found a little more for them to do, physically, than just stand in motionless groups.
Robert Kemp's sets and costumes are stunning, and the production is lit with great effect by Matthew Scott, complete with a major storm and the firelight from the burning village. The temple sets look very much as though they are centuries old and weigh many tons. Visually, there is plenty of interest, and credit must go to the builders and scenic artists for their work in bringing Kemp's design to such heights.
Set in colonial Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, Nadir, a hunter, and Zurga the local administrator, who is crowned King of the pearl fishers for the coming season, are two good friends who, foolishly, made a pact never to allow a woman to divide them. It doesn't take much forethought to realise that that was never going to work.
Along comes a priestess who is to bless the pearl divers and pray for a successful harvest, brought by the profiteer, Nourabad, to ensure that the season goes well and makes him richer. Nadir hears her voice and instantly recognises her as Léïla, his long-lost love. Nadir and Zurga had both loved her in the past, but she had chosen Nadir, causing a rift in their friendship, which is the reason for their pact. Nadir recognises her and wants to be reunited with her, and she is tempted, making Zurga furiously jealous, but her chastity is important to the blessing, and so Nourabad also needs to keep them apart.
Nadir is sung by tenor, Andrew Goodwin, and Zurga by baritone, Grant Doyle. Goodwin gives a passionate reading to the role, caught between the love for his friend and his love for Leïla. Goodwin shows us that anguish Nadir feels as he tries to reconcile his two commitments.
Doyle's resonant voice gives gravitas to his character as he takes us on an emotionally charged roller coaster ride through Zurga's mood swings. Zurga's ultimate understanding and change of heart is a profound moment in Doyle's hands.
Doyle and Goodwin make a sensational pairing, with some intense interactions. Their duet, Au fond du temple saint (In the depths of the temple), is a showstopper. Doyle and Andrews, incidentally, played the same roles in State Opera's 2010 production.
Leïla is sung by soprano, Desiree Frahn, in an astounding performance. Those of us who have been following her career have watched her blossom, her voice growing in power and flexibility, and her performances increasing in depth of expression. No doubt, there are great things ahead for her.
Bass, Pelham Andrews, sings the role of Nourabad, giving us a man of great power who commands the respect of all around him. Andrews never fails to impress.
State Opera have a winning production in The Pearl Fishers, but there are only three more performances, so hurry to book.