Review – The Pearl Fishers
As a classical music and opera lover, but having never actually been to see one live, I enter the theatre this evening full of excited anticipation; and boy, does it deliver. With soaring high notes which fill the Royal Concert Hall, and impressively elaborate cadenzas, Opera North’s concert version of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers has the audience enraptured throughout.
An opera in three acts, it tells the story of two men, Zurga and Nadir, whose childhood friendship is thrown into peril when they both fall for the same beautiful priestess, Leila. They make a pact never to act on it, but this is put to the test as she fatefully returns to their lives. It is a dramatic tale of betrayal, jealousy, friendship and love.
With not a single microphone on stage, the sound created is immense. The orchestra fills the large stage, and with the thirty-two strong Chorus behind them, it is almost deafening at times, a credit to the wonderful acoustics in the Concert Hall. This volume, though, highlights even more the incredible control in the quieter moments, conducted masterfully by Matthew Kofi Waldren, whose animated and lively style provides entertainment enough as they begin Bizet’s complex score. I never cease to be amazed by the skill of concert musicians, and these really are some of the finest I’ve seen.
The Chorus provide powerful vocals as the townspeople, celebrating Zurga at the start with bouncing melodies, before taking on a more sinister tone in the later acts as they condemn Nadir and Leila for their betrayal. There are also some lovely moments where the male and female choruses sing separately, providing a beautiful contrast, before coming back together into four parts to create a fantastically rich sound in support of the four principal singers.
Quirijn de Lang is hugely impressive as the town’s elected leader, Zurga. His powerful baritone voice carries throughout the hall, over the orchestra, and has a rich and velvety quality which is a joy to listen to. Despite this being a concert version of the opera, he demonstrates his acting skill in portraying the many moods of this complex character, and his remorseful solo in Act 3 is particularly convincing; he captures perfectly a man tortured by regret and indecision, before once again being consumed by jealousy and anger.
And Nico Darmanin is equally engaging as Nadir, who is tortured by his love for Leila and the consequences this will have on his friendship with Zurga. Darmanin gives an emotive performance, showing off his superior acting skills throughout; indeed, he inhabits the character every minute he is on stage, even when seated while another singer takes their turn. Especially noteworthy is his impassioned solo at the end of the first act, and his skill as a singer is clear to see. His effortless tenor voice provides a perfect contrast to the rich baritone of de Lang, and the two sing a wonderful duet, one of the most famous in the opera, snatches of which continue to appear throughout the score as a reminder of their friendship and what is at risk.
Sophia Theodorides is Leila, and she brings a huge amount of emotion to the role of the priestess in a powerful yet sensitive performance. The control of her voice is incredible in the complex and intricate cadenzas, and she hits the high notes with ease, the beautiful tone of her voice ringing around the concert hall and making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. She certainly gives de Lang a run for his money in Act 3 as she implores him to spare Nadir, and their voices stand up against each other in overlapping melodies; an emotionally charged performance from both singers, which is most impressive to listen to.
Nourabad, the high priest, this evening is sung by Simon Grange, who we are told stepped in very last minute following the injury of James Cresswell. He has a fabulous bass voice, smooth and strong, and he acts well the part of the law-enforcer, giving a hugely imposing performance.
Directed cleverly by Matthew Eberhardt, this is an engaging and impressive performance, one that I’ll remember for a long time as my first experience of live opera, and fully deserves the prolonged ovation is receives at the end. Simply stunning.