Saturday, September 30

The Pearl Fishers – Opera North at The Bridgewater Hall

Bizet’s first full length opera took six months from being commissioned to being performed in 1863 and whilst receiving a hostile reception from the critics, it was popular with audiences as, set in the then Ceylon, it draws upon its exotic setting to explore issues such as the conflict between love and duty, and jealousy whilst testing out new musical ideas and motifs that were ultimately to come to the fore in Carmen some twelve years later.

Zurga (Quirijn de Lang) and Nadir (Nico Darmanin) are old friends who reminisce that despite having fallen in love with the same young women years before, it hadn’t got in the way of their loyalty to each other. With Zurga now the leader of their village, their relationship is about to be tested again with the arrival of a veiled young priestess, Leila (Sophia Theodorides), who is in fact the same young woman, and in spite of warnings from a high priest Nourabad (James Cresswell), it’s only a matter of time before Leila and Nadir are out of their depth and something darker than the deep sea pearl fishing is on the horizon. With loyalties tested, will a bromance be enough to save the day?

The Pearl Fishers is the latest of Opera North’s concert stagings and whilst performed as a full opera at their temporary home at Leeds’ Grand Theatre, the subsequent tour which started tonight at The Bridgewater Hall, does not bring with it the usual theatrics and is performed more as a recital with four chairs for the main singers in front of the orchestra with an elevated chorus further back. This is a piece that depends much upon its staging given the immaturity of both its musicality and libretto and so it is a shame that the director, Matthew Eberhardt, seems to have mixed up exoticism with colonialism and given it a wide berth. Reinterpret it by all means – as they did in Leeds I understand – but definitely do something with it rather than remove the drama.

During the interval I overhead an audience member complaining, why don’t they just keep the orchestra in the pit. Well, there isn’t one at The Bridgewater Hall which is why you need to think carefully about the positioning of main singers and chorus and ensure the venue acoustics are able to cope. Unfortunately it didn’t seem like enough thought had gone into this as we went from what appeared a subdued start for both orchestra and chorus to the former drowning out the latter along with our four principals at key moments which was a shame because there were hints at what could be and I would have liked to at least hear, if not see, what could be achieved from what on paper is a very strong quartet with Theodorides making her company debut.

De Lang and Darmarin’s opening duet established their relationship well and both had moments with their respective solos and duets that followed. Cresswell powered through but at the expense of the emotion that he normally brings to a role. Theodorides demonstrated her potential with an extensive range and it would be good to see what she can do in a fuller performance. The chorus found their voice above the orchestra sufficiently to provide support to the unfolding twists and turns whilst conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren maintained an energetic beat throughout. Yes, it was enjoyable but within its depths there is so much more to be found.

Details of The Pearl Fishers touring venues can be found at

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 8th June 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.