'Pearl Fishers' casts vibrant visuals and vocals
By Rob Hubbard special to the Pioneer Press
Updated: 09/27/2009 09:27:57 PM CDT
Go to the opera and see the world. That was a European trend from the late 18th to early 20th centuries, when composers and producers shrank the earth by transporting audiences to exotic locales, basing their works on ancient myths or lending their own stories an Asian, African or Middle Eastern spin.
But it's safe to assume that none of those productions looked anything like the Minnesota Opera's season-opening staging of Georges Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers." The company has loosed the imagination of English fashion designer Zandra Rhodes (once a Princess Diana favorite) upon this tale of passion in ancient Sri Lanka. The result is quite eye-popping but also tremendously pleasing to the ear, thanks to a pair of romantic leads with exceptionally expressive voices.
Rhodes' vision takes a little getting used to, looking at first like an elementary imitation of the tropical paintings of Bizet's Parisian contemporary, Paul Gauguin. But once you accept the primitivist approach, Rhodes' seemingly hand-scribbled sets and vibrantly colored costumes bring playfulness to what can be an excessively serious opera.
For there is little lightness in this tale of two old friends in a fishing village who are reunited years after love for the same woman drove them apart. When that woman re-emerges, all the old conflicts boil to the surface, this time complicated by religious vows and some church-and-state issues in the local power structure.
As portrayed by Jesus Garcia and Philip Cutlip, the romantic rivals seem more than a bit stiff amid the tossed, pole-brandishing members of Minneapolis' Zenon Dance Company, set into a flurry of motion by choreographer John Malashock. But they each make up for it with strong singing, particularly Garcia, whose high notes have a warmth and tenderness rarely brought to the role of Nadir.
Among the leads, Isabel Bayrakdarian is the standout, lending Leila a vulnerability that invites the audience's sympathy, always wearing her conflicted emotions as prominently as her saffron sari. Each of her arias is captivating, especially a second-act seaside reverie enhanced by Kendall Smith's creative lighting.
Rob Hubbard can be reached at email@example.com.