Opera Australia’s new production of The Pearlfishers is a treat thanks to the performances of the cast.
The production, from Australian Michael Gow, has divided critics however for me the music is the most important consideration.
Opera Australia’s large chorus is truly magnificent while leads Emma Matthews, José Carbó, Dmitry Korchak and Steven Gallop all give memorable performances.
Set in Ceylon, the Pearlfishers focuses on the bonds of friendship, love and loyalty. Two men Zurga (Carbó) and Nadir (Korchak) are childhood friends. After a falling out they are reunited and swear loyalty to each other. Enter the woman they have both loved in the past – priestess Leila (Emma Matthews)- who has been brought to the village by Nourabad (Gallop). It’s believed her beautiful voice will ensure the safety of the divers however to the protect the power of her singing she has taken a vow of chastity. But then she and Nadir can no longer resist the great love they have for each other with disastrous consequences.
In this production Gow has set the opera in the 1860s and makes the three leads European. Zurga is a pearl dealer, Nadir a game hunter and Nourabad a religious racketeer.
Scenes vary from a beach to a decaying ancient temple (where Leila is sent by Nourabad to keep her away from men) to Zurga’s colonial manor.
While critics have been divided on the merits of the sets and costumes, all agree the performances of the cast and chorus are fantastic.
Highlights include Carob’s and Korchak’s performance of the opera’s famous duet “Au fond du temple saint” along with every scene the chorus is in! Emma Matthews again shows her great vocal and acting abilities.
As I discovered there are many other delightful songs from this opera apart from “Au fond du temple saint” (which also happens to be one of my favourite pieces). As a result of seeing these songs in this performance they could be added to my list!
Opera Australia is staging The Pearlfishers at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre until May 28. For more information visit Opera Australia’s website or ring 03 9685 3700.
*All photographs by Jeff Busby.
Jenny Burns attended the performance of The Pearlfishers on Friday 13 May as a guest of Opera Australia.