Firstly, it should be said that this is an original production from the English National Opera (ENO) in London. Whilst sitting at the Gate cinema in Notting Hill, I noticed there was barely any mention of it, and although it may have seemed like a brand new revival for New York, it certainly wasn’t for London audiences. On top of the so-called novelty was the performance of Bizet’s Ceylon romantic opera, which hadn’t been staged at the Metropolitan Opera for 100 years. In 1919, Enrico Caruso and Giuseppe De Luca sung as the two best friends who fell in love with the same Hindu priestess (Frieda Hempel), which was, sadly, only performed three times in the run.

Back in my mind I recalled some of my concerns I had about the ENO production I saw in 2014. Director Penny Woolcock, set designer Dick Bird and lightening designer Jen Schriever were here again to regal their ‘traditional’, silky, smooth Eastern pearl-diving village, with its aquatic, ocean shimmer.

The French words, the romantic libretto, and steaming story line of secret lovers hiding behind society – ultimately taboo – is why many opera lovers adore the opera so much. Second to Carmen, Les Pecheurs de Perles is another operatic success composed by Bizet.

The chorus and soloists were dressed in autumn coloured sarongs and saris, and compared to the static London production there was more magnetism and energy from the performers here. Perhaps that was due to the pressures of HD Live: some performers chose to improvise their acting for the camera, for those close up shots.

As a cinema viewer, I was under the powers of Live in HD director, Matthew Diamond and his camera men who were directing my eyes away from any tetchy scene changes going on in the background, which the Met audience were privy to. (There were no laddish conversations going onbackstage like the ENO production. Phew!) Undoubtedly with a larger budget, the Met managed to get 59 Productions to coordinate their projection designs, which, with aeroplane machinery, allowed dancers and acrobats to swim in the air with animated bubbles following their tracks.

Diana Damrau sung as the pure and scared protector of the village Leïla – not allowed to give into temptation. Yet she had already fallen in love with Nadir (Matthew Polenzani) whose best friend, Zurga (Mariusz Kwiecien) was the leader of the town. He too is in love with Leïla. Both Zurga and Nadir promise to make friends and put their fight over Leïla behind them, yet Nadir doesn’t abide. 

The town is under the control of Zurga, performed by baritone Kwiecien. He’s the good guy. He hands out money to the community and considers what is best for their livelihood. Yet, he loses out on the girl of his dreams and loses his best friend’s loyalty on the way. Kwiecien’s Zurga is like a captain – controlled, calm and subdued. With Polenzani, the best friend’s duet is performed with panache and is another sparkling gem in the production. Standing on different ends of the stage, they sing ‘Au fond du temple saint’ walking slowly, closer and closer together, breaking the social boundaries that once separated them. Polenzani sung ‘Je crois entrendre encore’ with supreme confidence as the starry-eyed Nadir. There’s a hopeful, wanderer’s quality about his singing, which is, arguably, one of the most memorable parts of the entire production. Damrau’s vocals displayed relative ease in the colouratura sections. She gave a convincing performance as the Hindu priestess lost to love’s ways, though Damrau seemed to get carried away with too much delicate vibrato; I wasn’t sure if she was simply showing off or deliberately singing like this to prove how fragile and naive her character was. With her partner, Polenzani, their voices blended with interesting colouring and phrasing, though, looking back, they didn’t seem to make their clandestine relationship look especially romantic. I’d rather give the credit to the Met orchestra, maestro Gianandrea Noseda and Bizet for keeping the theatrical atmosphere sweet and dreamy.

In the pit, the Met Orchestra were tremendous, taking fine direction from conductor Noseda. Simultaneously the prelude was tender and powerful . Together they brought out the luscious lyricism of Bizet’s gorgeous opera. I find it difficult to comment about the music in detail given that I was depending on the Gate Cinema’s speakers. Overall, I can say it gets a thumbs up from me. Let’s just hope the Metropolitan Opera doesn’t wait another 100 years to show another performance of The Pearl Fishers.In the second half of the opera, Kwiecien and Damrau sung emphatically about love, but for different people. The dynamic is entirely different; kindness and innocence has been destroyed.  Zurga no longer respects his best friend for betraying him and he denounces Leïla, condemning both of them to death. With a cigarette, a clean washed shirt and swig of alcohol Kwiecien’s Zurga tries to calm himself down, but is riled up by Leïla’s presence, begging him to let Nadir live. Back at the Gate Cinema, it’s an aggressive and scary sight. Damrau’s singing is passionate, while Kwiecien is red in the face; jealous and angered, and, just, about, manages to sing his lines, clearly and fluidly.

For more information on this production at the Met Opera, please see http://www.metopera.org/Season/2015-16-Season/pecheurs-de-perles-bizet-tickets/ 

Click here to check out full showings and listening at the Picture House, Gate cinema.  

Click here for my review of the ENO’s production of The Pearl Fishers, 2014 

Click here for my review of Live in HD production of Berg’s Lulu, 2015 at Curzon Cinema, Chelsea

Click here for my review of Live in HD production of Othello, 2015  at Curzon Cinema, Chelsea

Matthew Polenzani’s Nadir is the best I’ve seen. It was his first opera role at 17. @MetOpera #hdlive #PearlFishers pic.twitter.com/Kr714FvMcr

— Mary Grace Nguyen (@MaryGNguyen) January 16, 2016

Mariusz Kwiecien’s Zurga sacrifices his 💓,his best friend’s life& takes his top off, again. #PearlFishers @MetOpera pic.twitter.com/l0yonIEyz7

— Mary Grace Nguyen (@MaryGNguyen) January 16, 2016

Enjoyed @DianaDamrau‘s performance of the hopeful and “naughty” heroine, Leïla. @MetOpera #hdlive #PearlFishers pic.twitter.com/8XHjQrf8Kf

— Mary Grace Nguyen (@MaryGNguyen) January 16, 2016

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