On a sweltering Saturday evening in Hull, members of the Opera North company braved warm stage lights when they performed The Pearl Fishers in the magnificent surroundings of the City Hall.
The Pearl Fishers is one of Bizet’s earliest operas, first being performed in 1863 and lambasted by the critics on its opening night.
Well, 160 years later, here in 2023, this critic can’t think of anything “lambastable” about the 24-year-old Bizet’s efforts, or Opera North’s production either for that matter.
Mind you, the hall itself could not have provided a better backdrop, with its amazing 1911 organ – all, 5,505 pipes of it – beneath a colourful Baroque revival style ceiling.
Arranged in front of this masterpiece were the tenors, mezzos, sopranos and basses of the Chorus of Opera North, all dressed in smart black outfits.
And in front of the Chorus, sat the musicians of the Orchestra of Opera North – a sight to behold with their gleaming instruments. Also, dressed in black, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren was an animated and mesmerising figure, as he waved his baton.
Four towering operatic talents completed the scene – baritone Quirijn de Lang as Zurga, tenor Nico Darmanin as Nadir, soprano Sophia Theodorides as Leïla and bass James Creswell as Nourabad.
Sung in French, English translations were thoughtfully provided on TV screens.
The story centres around a pearl-diving community, “ruled” over by Zurga. Enter Zurga’s old friend, Nadir, and the men reminisce about how they both once fell in love with the same woman, Leïla, a beautiful priestess.
At that time, the men swore to each other they would never pursue the beauty, for the sake of their friendship. To cement that friendship, they sing probably the most well-known song of the production, Au Fond du Temple Saint (At the Back of the Holy Temple), a duet written by Michael Carré and Eugène Cormon.
However, Leïla is now the priestess of the pearl-divers, promising to remain celibate, upon pain of death, to keep the fishermen safe. Her reward? The finest pearl the divers can find.
Trouble is, she recognises Nadir, the man she truly loves and that’s when love, jealousy, rage, betrayal, hatred, revenge, sadness and acceptance all play their part in bringing this tale to a dramatic end. An ending I loved.
I am absolutely not an opera buff, or even a buffling, so my words won’t give the correct operatic terms for the superb voices of the four above-mentioned performers. I often closed my eyes to listen and let everyone’s singing wash over me. The four didn’t need to act, I could tell from the tone of their voices whether they were angry, happy, scared etc.
Of course, the talented musicians were a huge part of proceedings, as were the tuneful voices of those in the Chorus.
What with the organ, orchestra and chorus, there was little room or need for anything else on the stage, except for four chairs upon which the four opera stars rested occasionally.
Theodorides’s beautiful silver-grey silk gown often caught the light, as did the wonderful silver-grey hair of de Lang (I had to mention that), just two added delights on the night that culminated in a prolonged standing ovation and shouts of “bravo” from a very happy audience.
Reviewer: Jackie Foottit
Reviewed: 24th June 2023
North West End UK Rating: