OPERA NEWS - Les Pêcheurs de Perles
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In Review > North America

Les Pêcheurs de Perles

The Metropolitan Opera

In Review Met Pecheurs hdl 219
Nicolas Testé (Nourabad), Pretty Yende and Javier Camarena in Les Pêcheurs de Perles at the Met
© Johan Elbers

PRETTY YENDE'S given name does not fully encompass her gifts. The South African soprano does indeed have a lovely voice, but the big-scale lyricism she brought to the role of Leïla, on the November 14 opening night of the Met’s revival of Bizet’s Pêcheurs de Perles, suggested depths of feeling far beyond “prettiness.” Leïla’s moments of passion brought forth outpourings of luxuriant sound, while “Comme autrefois,” its ending gorgeously floated, was a dream of romance. The voice took on a tubular quality in passagework—arguably a fault, but to these ears just another coloristic resource, and one that allowed her to give sharp definition to the individual notes. Through it all, she lent humanity to a character who could easily register as a stock figure. 

It would probably be impossible for any tenor to bring a corresponding degree of texture to the placid Nadir. But Javier Camarena sure can sing the role. Nadir’s vertiginous tessitura placed it right in Camarena’s sweet spot, and he picked high notes seemingly out of the air without a trace of sweat or strain. “Je crois entendre encore,” sung in its original key without any audible register breaks, was a particular astonishment. 

Mariusz Kwiecień blustered his way through Zurga’s opening pronouncements at the beginning of Act I, although his voice achieved more focus in lyrical passages later on, especially the duet “Au fond du temple saint.” Still, it was unsurprising when he withdrew from the remainder of the performance at the act break. Alexander Birch Elliott, the Met debutant who replaced him in Acts II and III, brought a fine, firm baritone to the emergency assignment, along with a bluntness of manner that was entirely forgivable in the circumstances.

The Met–ENO production by Penny Woolcock, with sets designed by Dick Bird, was first seen in New York in 2015. It offers a number of striking stage images—a raffish Asian port panorama out of a von Sternberg movie; fishermen swimming underwater in a proscenium-high “ocean”—without ever quite blowing the mildew off of the work’s pages. I am reluctant to blame conductor Emmanuel Villaume for the performance’s blurry choral work and its frequent moments of loose ensemble, since it was clear that the revival had not received adequate rehearsal. —Fred Cohn

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