Bizet’s PEARL FISHERS’ plot is as negative as anything in life. Oaths of brotherhood; vows of chastity; pledges of commitment and covenants of loyalty all go by-the-boards when a love triangle happens. The head stops working and the crotch takes over!
The narrative concerns early Taprobanese (Sri Lanka) devout Buddhists who dive for pearls rather than harvesting the much safer tea, cinnamon, or sapphires! Two friends [Zurga & Nadir] reunite just after the former is named leader and the latter returns from a life of hunting. We learn that both previously fell in love with the same dame – Leila, but decided that their relationship is more important so they swear off amore forever.
Their reunion duet – Au fond de temple saint has become one of opera’s staples and the theme reiterates throughout the work, like the composer’s doomed Carmen leitmotif in his most famous work. A boat arrives with a priestess and high priest and she’s given the responsibility of singing away all the divers’ natural challenges. Big BUT, she must be forever veiled, and chaste or face execution. Turns out she’s the Leila from before the opening curtain… how ironic. Guess what will happen!
Singing the Zurga role, baritone Brett Polegato exhibits all the angst of trying to balance friendship against responsibility, and his acting skills are only outdone by his faultless vocal range and pure diction. Being bi-lingual; hearing him as well as Edgar Ernesto Ramirez as Nadir; reading the surtitles became redundant. Ramirez reads his ‘outsider’ hunter as a stern and somewhat formidable Iago- but without the nasty streak. Stage director Brian Deedrick has his impassioned Ramirez seem almost inexorably fated to see and re-fall for Leila. As the virgin fatale, soprano Virginia Hatfield probably COULD calm the seas and keep storms at bay. Her ‘O dio Brahma’ aria offers such sincerity and faultless range that from then on – she owns the play. The high priest is sung by Stephen Hegedus and his bass voice & haughty posture is perfectly suited to the imagery of an authoritative ‘Nourabad’. Only irritant, Deedrick has him put his hands in a very Christian prayer-mode ad infinitum! It’s almost a wonder that he can unclasp them long enough to grab his executioner’s shiv. All four of the leads have previously served Opera Hamilton with distinction and their Pearl Fishers support even raises the bar.
The chorus demands for this tragedy are weightier than in most such works. The almost thirty members contribute yeoman effort to the successful staging and even the ‘supers’ help underwrite the effectiveness of this somewhat modest stage effort. The set is creative but simplistic; however the costumes, lighting and especially the makeup (including body ‘tats’) create a feel for the ancient period and modus. We missed seeing the previous O.H. staging of this Bizet play, but our seatmates claimed that except for the lack of opulent settings & props; vocally, this certainly was its equal!
This was the final Hamilton podium for conductor & chorus master Peter Oleskevich before he leaves for the Maritimes. Maestro Speers, any chance we can invite him back from time to time? PEARL FISHERS will be diving for the moby’s™ Mar. 12th-16th. at Theatre Aquarius