Review: THE PEARL FISHERS at Artscape Is Visually and Vocally Exquisite

This sumptuous opera has a short run from 10 to 14 May.

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Cape Town Opera's production of Bizet's THE PEARL FISHERS is a feast for the senses. The staging is minimal yet ethereal and allows the audience to float gently along the azure waters suggested onstage. The rich hues of royal blue, cobalt, turquoise and cyan are reflected in the lighting, costumes and visual art onstage, all of which create a serene setting into which the audience is lulled. Michael Mitchell (stage and costume design) and Faheem Bardien (lighting) have done a superb job. Shakil Solanki's visual art, which is projected onto the back of stage, and which is being exhibited at Everard Read in Cape Town until 13 May, is the perfect accompaniment to Bizet's textured melodies.

THE PEARL FISHERS tells the story of two best friends, Zurga and Nadir, whose brotherly devotion to each other was once broken when they both fell in love with the same woman, Leïla. Years later, they reconcile and vow to remain loyal to each other in their renewed friendship. However, when the veiled priestess arrives to pray for the safety of the fishing village, as she does every year, and is revealed to be none other than Leïla, she and Nadir cannot deny their love for each other, much to the fury of Zurga.

The calibre of the cast is as impressive as the aesthetics of the production. Lukhanyo Moyake and special guest artist, Levy Sekgapane share the role of Nadir. I saw the latter, who is superb. His voice is as clear as a bell and resonates throughout the theatre, seemingly effortlessly. Likewise, Conroy Scott, is the perfect Zurga. His commanding presence adeptly captures the strength and vanity of Zurga and his baritone is equally outstanding, with rich, textured tones. Brittany Smith makes an enchanting Leïla. Her haunting soprano and excellent characterisation convincingly convey the tension between her adoration of Nadir and her attempt to perform her duty as priestess. She is a captivating performer. Reuben Mbonambi as Nourabad, the high priest who accompanies Leïla, is equally well-cast - regal and paternal, with a sonorous voice.

This opera flows as beautifully as the water seems to in Solanki's stills. The Cape Town Opera chorus, made up of 27 singers, as well the accompaniment by the fabulous Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra performs Bizet's music and Carré and Cormon's libretto with the depth, opulence and grandeur that they deserve, ultimately completing this exquisite production.

Director, Elisabeth Manduell and Conductor, Adam Szmidt have prepared a visual and audial feast that makes for a dreamlike, evening escape at the theatre. This three-act opera is beautifully and sumptuously performed and will enchant anyone who sails into the waters of the Ceylonese village in which the story takes place. Only three performances remain so book while you still can - do not miss this pearl of a production.

THE PEARL FISHERS runs from 10 to 14 May. The show on Friday 12 May commences at 19:00; the show on Saturday 13 May starts at 18:00; and the show on Sunday 14:00 begins at 15:00. Tickets are available via Computicket and range from R250 to R600.

Photo credit: Kim Stevens


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