Story: On the ancient island of Ceylon, a group of pearl fishermen elect their comrade Zurga as their leader. Shortly thereafter Zurga’s long-lost friend Nadir arrives, and they reminisce about an earlier time when they both loved the same young priestess. Rather than fight over her, they had vowed to remain friends forever.
When a priestess named Leila comes to the shore of the island to bless the fleet, the woman recognizes Nadir but remains quiet. After Nadir is left alone while the other fishermen go out to sea, he dreams of the woman whom he had secretly loved even after his agreement with Zurga. He awakes and recognizes Leila’s voice coming from the temple.
Leila welcomes Nadir but she is pressured by the high priest Nourabad to honor her vows to Brahma. She recalls a moment when she was younger and hid a fugitive from his enemies and certain death. In appreciation, the fugitive had given Leila a necklace to wear in remembrance.
When the returning fishermen find Nadir with Leila, they demand that both be executed for violating sacred vows. Zurga resists until he recognizes Leila and is filled with jealousy about the mutual love she shares with Nadir.
As Leila takes off her necklace on her way to execution, Zurga sees that it is the one he gave to a little girl when he was a fugitive. He sets Nadir and Leila free but he himself is fatally wounded by the angry pearl fishers.
Highlights: An enjoyable reading of Georges Bizet’s music by conductor Darwin Aquino and the Winter Opera St. Louis orchestra showcased the opera’s strength in a recent presentation by Winter Opera St. Louis.
Other Info: One of Bizet’s earlier operas, Les Pecheurs de Perles debuted in 1863 and has a libretto by Eugene Cormon and M ichel Carrer as well as the French composer’s music. It features a small cast of just four primary singers in addition to an ensemble of players who portray the fishermen and island women.
Stage director Mark Freeman kept the Winter Opera version moving at a sprightly clip, successfully utilizing the broad stage at the Skip Viragh Center for Performing Arts to allow for the ensemble to gather and still maintain an appearance of a spacious shoreline.
His four major performers all sang their roles with polish. Baritone Andrew Pardini brought compassion and virility to the role of the leader Zurga, handling the role and its vacillating emotions capably. Tenor Spencer Viator worked well with soprano Sonja Krenek as the young lovers Nadir and Leila, each handling their parts with solid vocal abilities as well as a talent for the more dramatic moments. Richard Zuch brought his resonant bass voice in fine measure to the role of the unyielding high priest Nourabad.
Aquino and his orchestra gave a refined reading to Bizet’s pleasing music, which isn’t so much a work of genius as one of accessible arrangements and a melodious score. The simple libretto by Cormon and Carre provides suitable accompaniment for the piece.
Lighting designer Natali Arco nicely illuminated the set designed by Scott Loebl, which presented the illusion of a seaside locale, while JC Krajicek designed costumes that were fitting for a veiled princess as well as the working-class fishermen. Gail Hintz served both as chorus master and collaborative pianist, Laura Skroska was property master and Holly Stoltz Smith added choreography.
The large and boisterous ensemble included Sharifa Black, Kara Born, Grace Fisher, Jackie Gross, Rebecca Hatlelid, Hannah Kauffman, Ryan Keller, Charlie Kinnison, Will Macarthy, Victoria Menke, Emily Moore, Michael Oeklers, John Richey, Joel Rogier, Thomas Taylor and Anthony Tomassini. Dancers featured were Lexi Poulsen, Noelle Renick, Allison Ruggeri and Madi Ruggeri.
Les Pecheurs de Perles is a rather trifling piece dramatically, but Bizet’s agreeable score makes for a pleasant enough evening, especially when performed as ably as was the case with the Winter Opera production.
Winter Opera next presents Gaetano Donizetti’s L’Elixir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love) on March 9 and 11. Visit www.winteropera.org or call 865-0038 for additional information.
Opera: Les Pecheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers)
Group: Winter Opera St. Louis
Venue: Skip Viragh Center for Performing Arts, Chaminade College Preparatory School, 425 South Lindbergh
Dates: Run concluded
Photos courtesy of Wylde Brothers Productions