The Occidental Goddess

Georges Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers has been knocking steadily at the door of the standard opera repertoire now for quite some time but none that really caught fire possibly for a number of reasons.

The score, though bursting with melody and a particular French exoticism, is difficult to pull off. There are a number of tempo changes that require a great conductor. The tenor and soprano roles offer an array of daunting vocal challenges that mainly showcase the delicacy of vocals and their sensitivity give it its beauty and luster.

But you also need a solid and able chorus well versed in the French style. This mostly translates to a solid bunch of mezzos and a tenor section with the ability to sing the higher notes.

Of course there’s always the plot to consider.

Happy was I last Saturday night that the production found its way to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with its stage illusions ready to seduce a very willing audience at LA Opera https://www.laopera.org/season/1718-Season/

And the fact that it was the last weekend of summer, I got to wear my Fuchsia Flirty Flutter Nanette Lepore dress (you’ll see it here:  https://www.amazon.com/Nanette-Lepore-Womens-Flirty-Flutter/dp/B06XC9L1PW ) complete with a high heel sandal. Indulgence for my birthday, which was the 19th.

Visually and musically there’s so much magic happening here it’s almost hard to recount. Penny Woolcock’s staging brought many pleasures starting with its modern setting in a shanty town perched on stilts over the ocean that brings the villagers their livelihood and threatens their doom. Lights twinkle in a distant perspective of a village while magnificent cloudscapes and nighttime skies, cleverly produced, provide a backdrop.

Even harder to recount is the actual story of the opera which reminds me that it’s always a bad idea to foster a crush on our best buddy’s girl and doubly so if she’s in a holy order. So the Set Designer team should be commended for not only resuscitating this French parfumerie but giving it a setting of equal parts storybook and grit.

By the time of the arrival of the Brahman Priestess Leila, and the triple prayers to Brahma that accompany her, I was already enthralled by the Occidental time period. Something I’m fond of naturally, but it was the Chorus that was in top form and in an opera with a presence this large they nearly walked away with the evening’s laurels. I can’t ever remember in all of my opera going days being this mesmerized by a chorus.

Zurga, the head of the fishing community, was played by Mexican baritone Alfredo Daza, who is reunited in the opera’s opening moments with his best friend and tenor duet partner, Nadir, played by Javier Camarena. So everyone who’s come to hear the famous duet “Au fond du temple saint” got their money’s worth in the first 15 minutes.

Daza’s first utterances were at first a bit reserved.  Most unfortunate then that the staging for the big duet starts off with both men at nearly opposite sides of the set and only brings them together at the reprise. Daza’s vocal stature and strength gained as the evening progressed delivering a crushing, “L’orage est calmé” to the audience’s collective rapture.

Camarena needed no such prep time and arrived with his vocal arsenal replete with all the poise and refinement the role requires. He managed some a very exciting duet with Leila in Act II.

The local favorite was Nino Machaidze, although she made a tentative start, she came to the final pages and delivered a cadenza of brilliance and elegance.

From that point forward, through the love duet with Nadir and later in that last act with Zuniga pleading for her lover’s life, Machaidze unleashed a steady stream of shimmering soprano tone.

It was a magical production (where people stayed to applaud instead of running out like there’s a fire) with a stellar vocal line up that certainly won’t be topped anytime soon.

4 Comments

  1. What a terrific review!! I’ve rarely read such a comprehensive review of the story, singers and production, even by Tommassini in the NYT, with whom I take issue on a regular basis. I often wonder if we’ve actually seen the same performance at the Met. You saw one of the best tenors around today. Camarena is just magnificent. Saw him last season in “I Puritani” at the Met and he absolutely blew us away.

    Like you, I believe this opera has definitely been given short shrift when compared to Bizet’s other masterpiece “Carmen.” It’s an entirely different animal and one that can work its way into you hearts, if you embrace it subtle beauty.

    I’m so glad you got to see it. It’s a rare treat.

    Cheers, M-T

  2. My senses were heightened to such an extent and when I tell you why your going to fall out of your chair!
    You probably have surmised there is no opera in Las Vegas. It’s been 12 LONG years since I’ve seen an opera performance. I lived an imposters’ life far too long. I, who once made the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion my second home (as a journalist one of the biggest donors use to send a car for me!) hadn’t been there since the opening season of 2005. I nearly kissed the walls. It was a hot day (95 and the evening about 80) not a shawl in sight. Sitting where I was, and hearing the sound of the ocean and the ripples of the water was such a soothing delight. It was like entering the sublime. It also helped that I took notes because I wanted to engrave it to memory. It truly was magical, as a performance and as a birthday present. One that I will always cherish that I hungered for after a long fast.

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