By George Bizet
Conductor: Giuseppe Grazioli
Director: Andrew Sinclair
Leïla: Norah Amsellem
Nadir: Charles Castronovo
Zurga: Trevor Scheunemann
Nourabad: Denis Sedov
There’s no rest for the brave, and yesterday evening Jennifer and I were back in our seats at the Kennedy Center opera house. (Actually one seat off towards the center. Not that we're keeping track...) This time, we saw The Pearl Fishers (Les pêcheurs de perles), which Bizet wrote when he was 25. Not a major work, it is more of a curiosity. The story line revolves essentially around the typical love triangle of two male friends fighting over a woman. Of course, in this case it is not just any woman, but no less than a “consecrated celestial virgin,” also known as Leïla, the goddess who rules the seas and protects the fishermen. My guess is that this opera has been mostly popular for the exotic setting of Ceylon (nowadays Sri Lanka), which allows the set and costum designers to liberate their creative juices.
Last night was no exception, and the opening was a psychedelic explosion of colors, music, singing and dancing. The palm trees were all but wildly decorated by big strokes of crayolas, and the multi-hued costumes, when they were actually on, added to the delirious exuberance of the place. Some choices, like the group of men dancing in what looked like diapers, were a bit odd, but in the anything-goes atmosphere, nothing looked totally out of place.
Beside the eye-popping set, the story unfolded nicely, if uneventfully. Luckily, the three main singers were game and fulfilled their duties with youthful ardor. The tenor, Charles Castronovo, was especially praise-worthy as Nadir, displaying his wide range from the lovely aria “Je crois entendre encore” (“I think I can still hear”) to his winning duets with Zurga (Trevor Scheunemann) and Leïla (Norah Amsellem). The chorus also did a more than fine job on several occasions, present but not overpowering.
As a native French speaker working in the translation business, I am always curious about the handling of that task, and I have to admit that a couple of times, I did find it lacking. For example, when towards the end Zurga sang in French that “nobody knows the future,” the surtitle read that “God only knows the future.” While I understand that the WNO translation may be more idiomatic, I really don't see the need for it when a literally closer and perfectly adequate one can easily be found. Nobody goes to the opera to be proselytized, or more generally misled.
But linguistic frustations aside, the outing was still a success. While we would have liked a more involving story and some character development, it is sometimes quite enjoyable to just kick back, relax and take it all in without much emotional trauma. After all, we even got an almost happy ending!