BWW Review: THE PEARL FISHERS at Santa Fe Opera
On June 29, Santa Fe Opera presented its second production of the 2019 season, a revival of Georges Bizet's exotic THE PEARL FISHERS. First seen in Lee Blakekely's 2012 version, the production has fared well. Current director Shawna Lucey staged a tasteful, straight forward revival of the work Bizet wrote 12 years before his immortal CARMEN. THE PEARL FISHERS is not quite as melodic as the later work, but it has incredibly beautiful music for both soloists and chorus that we don't hear anywhere else.
The most notable aspect of Jean-Marc Puissant's set was the huge gold decorative picture frame that provided a proscenium for Santa Fe Opera's open stage. It was placed at a sideways angle and on a step above the downstage area. Later, at the end of Act II, it fell forward about a foot, indicating storm damage in the village. Another piece of interesting scenery was the stylized hand in which the veiled Leila prayed. According to the story, the temple was falling into ruin, however, so only the hand and the frame appeared in perfect condition.
Summer brings clouds and occasional storms to Santa Fe and this evening's sunset included darks as well as pinks and oranges. With the stage open at the back, the colors added to the vibrancy of the scenic design when Leila's boat arrived upstage.
Brigitte Reiffenstuel's Ceylon-styled costumes were soft, full pants for everybody with long jackets for the women. The colors ranged from off-white to brown except for Leila's bright red outfit. As Leila, Corinne Winters wore a midriff blouse and a stiff skirt with myriad stylized pleats over slim pants. For much of Act I, her head was encased in a filmy red veil through which she sang and even trilled. Rick Fisher's well-considered lighting design pointed out important aspects of the story as this unfamiliar tale unfolded.
Ilker Arcayürek who sang Nadir, was a tall, slender Swiss tenor of Turkish background. Some of the high notes in his opening aria, "Je crois entendre encore" ("I hear it again") sounded like he was suffering from a bit of a cold but he made up for any shortcomings with his compelling characterization. By the time Arcayürek and baritone Anthony Clark Evans began their famous duet "Au fond du temple saint" ("Below the holy temple"), both voices were completely warmed up. They sang with excellent projection, solid resonance, and enough vocal power to drew a notable response from onlookers. Evans was a noble Zurga whose characterization showed his emotional path from jealous would-be lover to renunciation in favor of Leila's choice. His mind was restless but his voice was steady and virile as he sang his Act III aria, "L'orage s'est calmé" ("The storm has ceased").
Corinne Winters was a delightful Leila who had the coloratura ability to navigate Bizet's 1863 score. Her lush but clear tones conveyed a timbre that was an exquisite fit for French opera. Both her Act I prayer to Brahma and her later cavatina, "Comme autrefois dans la nuit" (" As formerly in the night"), when she realized her love for Nadir, were fine artistic creations in the tradition of nineteenth century French opera. Although her first costume prevented much movement and her head veil hid her face at times, Winters still created a loving character who held our attention with masterful stage presence and made us appreciate her worth.
Every opera needs a villain and Canadian bass, Robert Pomakov, was thoroughly believable when, as Nourabad, he threatened Leila and Nadir with death on a funeral pyre for their secret love. Like many other French operas, the score of Pearl Fishers contains memorable choral music. Susanne Sheston's group, all of whom are young solo singers, blended their tones into a glorious sound that opera buffs may remember for many months to come.
Making his Santa Fe Opera debut, conductor Timothy Myers was impressive as he paced the action with vitality and flexibility. He handled his singers with care and he seemed to have just the right "stuff" for the French repertoire. As we already knew last night, the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra was in fine form. It played Bizet's finely shaped melodies with emotional expression and a variety of musical colors. THE PEARL FISHERS can be seen on July 5, 10, August 8, 16, and 23rd.
Photo: Curtis Brown for Santa Fe Opera