Event Review: Florida Grand Opera’s The Pearl Fishers: a Fluid and Youthful Adaptation of Bizet’s Work
Following a proven model for scheduling their season, the Florida Grand Opera (FGO) has already shown remarkable skill with opener Madama Butterfly and Mozart’s Così fan tutte. For their third production, they chose George Bizet’s second-most popular opera, The Pearl Fishers and placed it in the capable hands of young conductor Anthony Barrese making his FGO debut.
Like last season’s Thaïs, The Pearl Fishers is a tale about the human condition when confronted with choices between secularism and spirituality. Also set in an exotic land, ancient Ceylon (now the nation of Sri Lanka), The Pearl Fishers is the story of Zurga and Nadir, many years after their close and youthful friendship parted ways and their coming together upon the return of their old love interest, Leïla now a temple priestess.
No operatic drama ends well for the players involved and it is important to note that the storyline relies on the convincing portrayal by the main cast of a longtime friendship rekindling under the parameters set by the action. That said, Zurga is now the leader of a fishing village and in the opening act, is reunited with his old friend Nadir upon his return from wandering in the forest for a year.
The friends catch up and reminisce on the woman that almost destroyed their friendship and how by swearing her off, they were able to remain friends. Good luck with that as the new priestess at the local temple turns out to be that woman, Leïla. Baritone Corey McKern as Zurga manages the required gravitas of an elected official and the top-heavy presence of a leader. Tenor Philippe Talbot is perfectly cast as the more happy-go-lucky Nadir who’s given into flights of the heart and soprano Sydney Mancansola as Leïla is deceivingly charming.
Rounding out the main cast is Burak Bilgili, an imposing bass portraying Nourabad – a role he’s performed before for the FGO in their 2008 production. Anchoring the other three in their FGO debuts, the cast had an easy rapport and chemistry onstage.
Opening night (February 28, 2015) was hindered by inclement weather that brought numerous reports of stranded vehicles in downtown Miami and deep floods that were more ominous than usual with recent reports of the Magic City’s eventual “return to the sea” occurring at a much faster pace than scientists originally predicted. Still though, no matter how fast this city will slip into the water, there’ll be many more years of great opera to come.
The Pearl Fishers is an ambitious production. This three act opera requires four set changes and a few dance numbers involving a majority of the supporting cast. All aspects of the production worked in well-oiled tandem, with the crisp and fully ranged singing of the primaries sustained by the lively acting and performing of the supporting cast. This is a credit to the director’s fluid management gelling with Barrese’s youthful interpretation of the cosmopolitan composer’s work.
Barrese is undoubtedly a rising star in American opera and his work across the Atlantic in Italy has certainly informed him as to how an opera should be approached. This skillful adaptation continues to show the FGO’s mission of bringing great opera to South Florida and sets up the final piece of their season, Gian Carlo Menotti’s modern (and oh so topical) three act work The Consul.
The Pearl Fishers runs through March 7 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and March 12 and 14 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. For times, ticket purchases and general information, please call 305-403-3317 or visit fgo.org.
All images compliments of Brittany Mazzurco and the Florida Grand Opera, used with permission.
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