Review: THE PEARL FISHERS Proves to Be a Real Catch at The Dallas Opera

The final show of TDO's season plays April 2, 6, 8, and 10.

By: Apr. 06, 2022

Review: THE PEARL FISHERS Proves to Be a Real Catch at The Dallas Opera In a season otherwise filled with blockbusters (MADAME BUTTERFLY, THE BARBER OF SEVILLE) and a company premiere (FLIGHT), it initially seems an odd choice to close out their first full season since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with the smaller, less popular, more streamlined THE PEARL FISHERS. Yet this is precisely what the city and audiences need after all the high drama and frenetic energy of the last two years. In this way, The Dallas Opera's production of Bizet's THE PEARL FISHERS acts as a satisfying palate cleanser, providing the talent audiences have come to expect from the company as well as a dream of a show.

THE PEARL FISHERS, while lesser-known than Bizet's masterpiece CARMEN, was the composer's first publicly performed opera, and the small cast of characters and largely conventional storytelling attest to this fact. PEARL FISHERS opens on a fishing village in an unspecified country that--with the help of Zandra Rhodes's colorful, geometrically suggestive sets--avoids adhering to any specific existent culture or region. The villagers elect Zurga (Alfredo Daza) as their new leader because of his insistence on the rule of law and loyalty to his people. Soon enough, his best friend Nadir (René Barbera) arrives after years abroad, and the two reminisce of a beautiful woman they once saw in some far-off land with whom they both fell in love. They swore then and there that they would never let any woman come between them, which is easier said than done when that woman, a Brahmin priestess named Leila (Joyce El-Khoury), arrives as the village's new religious leader and protector. The remainder of the opera details how Nadir and Leila reconcile their feelings with their societal duties as well as Zurga's conflict between loyalty to his friend and the duties of his position.

Daza's rumbling baritone makes him an assertive figure, masked by his authority so well that it's particularly jarring and moving when he cries out in pain or anger. As the distinction between Zurga's public and private self begins to break down, Daza conveys troubling emotions without compromising the quality of his sound. Barbera is instantly charming as Nadir, his rich tenor complementing his warm personality so that it's no wonder Leila prefers him over the more serious Zurga. Such a wonderful characterization is necessary when playing a character like Nadir, one who doesn't easily fit into categories of "good" or "bad," "moral" or "immoral," at least by his own society's standards. The "pearl" of the show, though, is El-Khoury's Leila. PEARL FISHERS marks El-Khoury's TDO debut, and we should be so lucky to see her at the Winspear again in future productions. Her soprano has a haunting richness to it, the kind of bittersweet tone that makes Leila's arias particularly sympathetic and dramatic, but she switches between barely whispered prayers to pained declarations of love with such ease and authenticity that emphasizes the character's own tortured psyche.

Rounding out the small main cast is Morris Robinson as Leila's overseer Nourabad, whose roaring bass becomes particularly thrilling when a storm hits the island at the end of the second act. The chorus, again under the direction of Alexander Rom, has the tight unity of a Greek chorus, though their energy wavered in the show's early scenes before rising beautifully in the storm scene. The orchestra, under the direction of Nicole Paiement, played the score with ease and emotion, breathing life into an opera that isn't exactly known for its dynamic orchestrations.

The production is co-directed by Shawna Lucey and James Smith, who make a concerted effort not to fall into the Orientalist traps inherent in Bizet's libretto. If it weren't for the unavoidable mentions of Brahmin throughout the show, these characters and their society could belong to almost any seaside community. Doubling as costume designer, Rhodes borrows elements from Caribbean, Arab, and Asian cultures to create a hybrid look that conveys the community's values and personalities without ever engaging in disrespectful cultural appropriation.

I went into THE PEARL FISHERS knowing little about the piece and left with unexpected satisfaction, which is perhaps the best way to conclude a season, with a show at once old and unfamiliar, lesser-known yet immediately recognizable, the kind of show that comforts and entertains viewers in the past and present while still looking toward the future.


Lyle Lovett Returns To Bass Hall August 24! Photo
Lyle Lovett Returns To Bass Hall August 24!

Performing Arts Fort Worth, the non-profit owner and operator of Bass Performance Hall, announced today that Lyle Lovett, Grammy Award winner and country music icon, will return to Bass Hall for one night only Thursday, August 24.

Winners Revealed at 12th Annual Broadway Dallas High School Musical Theatre Awards Photo
Winners Revealed at 12th Annual Broadway Dallas High School Musical Theatre Awards

High school students, teachers, parents, friends, arts advocates, celebrities and city officials celebrated as winners and scholarship recipients were announced at the 12th Annual Broadway Dallas High School Musical Theatre Awards.

CAPTAIN BLOOD - A Pirate Melodrama Comes to Pocket Sandwich Theatre This Summer Photo
CAPTAIN BLOOD - A Pirate Melodrama Comes to Pocket Sandwich Theatre This Summer

Pocket Sandwich Theatre has announced its upcoming summer melodrama in its new theater that opened this past December in Historic Downtown Carrollton. Opening on June 28 and running Thursday through Sunday evenings through August 12 is 'Captain Blood-A Pirate Melodrama', another one of our infamous popcorn-tossing melodramas, written by Joe Dickinson and directed by Nick Haley.

T-Byrd Gordon Band to Play Pocket Stage This Month Photo
T-Byrd Gordon Band to Play Pocket Stage This Month

On Saturday night, June 24 at 8pm, The T-Byrd Gordon Band will hit the Pocket Sandwich Theatre's new stage in historic downtown Carrollton with an infusion of sounds and vocal styles only they can deliver.


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