Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de perles, set in Sri Lanka, is known above all for its unforgettable duet for tenor and baritone, but it its score is full of delightful and dramatic music. When recently staged at the Metropolitan Opera in New York it proved a major success, both for the production by Penny Woolcock and the musical performance, conducted by Paolo Noseda, with (once again) Diana Damrau as the priestess Leïla and, as the two men competing for love, the tenor Matthew Polenzani (Nadir) and the baritone Mariusz Kwiecien (Zurga). Woolcock’s concept brought the production up to date, with photographic and video references to the 2004 tsunami, and offered a superb ‘aquatic’ spectacle during the overture: the whole stage appeared to be beneath the Indian Ocean and acrobatic divers ‘swam’ down from the surface (located in the flies of the theatre).
Widely remembered as the composer of one of the most popular operas of all time, CARMEN, Georges Bizet was also responsible for this lesser-known gem. Written when he was only 25, the work was not well-recieved upon its initial performance in 1863, but has since come to be appreciated for its beauty and orchestral subtlety. The libretto deals with two men, King Zurga of Ceylon and his friend Nadir, who are both in love with a high priestess, Leila. Though each claim to be over Leila, when Nadir recognizes her in the temple he cannot deny his feelings, which are returned; though she has vowed celibacy, they meet in secret, and are discovered. The jealous Zurga condemns Leila to death, but when he realizes she intervened on his behalf years ago, he changes his mind with catastophic results.