The Pearl Fishersby Georges Bizet
Sept. 26, 29, Oct. 1, 3, 4, 2009
A love triangle turns deadly in exotic Ceylon.
In a faraway fishing village, two friends' lifelong bond is threatened when a mysterious priestess from their past returns and reignites their rivalry. Their love triangle creates a deadly conflict of loyalty, religious taboos and desire. Designed by British fashion icon Zandra Rhodes, this stunning, colorful production stars Tony Award winner Jesus Garcia and international sensation Isabel Bayrakdarian, who played the priestess in the production's sold-out premiere. Leonardo Vordoni returns to conduct Bizet's shimmering score.
Join us for Opera Insights, a free prologue one hour prior to each opera performance. These entertaining and informative half-hour sessions, hosted by Artistic Director Dale Johnson or other artistic staffers in Ordway Center's mezzanine lobby. They give an overview of the characters and music, provide historical and cultural context for the opera and highlight certain aspects to watch for during the show. Lecturer and Accompanist - Clinton Smith. Singers - Brad Benoit, Naomi Isabel Ruiz and Michael Nyby. Special Guest Ian Punnett on Tuesday September 29th performance.
On an arid, wild beach, the pearl fishers prepare for a successful dive. Zurga is declared their leader. Nadir appears out of the forest and approaches. He has not seen his former comrade Zurga for many years and is invited to join the community. The cause of their rift was a beautiful woman, Leïla, whom they both loved. To save their friendship, the two men promised that neither would pursue her further, and Nadir departed to cleanse his soul. They swear to be brothers once more.
As part of the sacred ritual to ward off evil spirits, a chaste unknown priestess must be brought from a distant island, and she soon arrives. No one may know her identity, and Zurga requires that she take a vow to remain pure and uphold their faith under penalty of death. A veiled Leïla recognizes Nadir, who identifies her in turn from her voice. His passion is reborn as Leïla leads the people in a prayer to the god Brahma.
At the sacred temple, Nourabad instructs Leïla to stay isolated during the night. Gathering strength, she recalls a time in her youth when she secretly sheltered a stranger who was being pursued by vigilantes. Grateful, the man gave her a necklace, which she still wears. She is left alone and dreams of Nadir, who soon arrives in the flesh. Leïla fears the consequences and begs him to leave, but then succumbs to his desires. A storm interrupts their reunion and Nadir departs, but not before being spotted by Nourabad, who takes him into custody. The two lovers are brought before the people. It is up to Zurga to pass judgment, and he is about to let his friend escape with the priestess, until he recognizes Leïla. They are sentenced to death.
The storm has subsided, but Zurga's thoughts are still clouded by remorse. Leïla arrives alone and begs for Nadir's life to be spared. His heart is steeled once again when he learns that Nadir was her only love. The deadly sentence will be carried out for both of them. As Leïla prepares to be executed, she asks that her necklace be given to her mother. Zurga recognizes it as the one he gave her so many years ago when she saved his life. To distract the raging pearl fishers, he sets the village on fire and allows Leïla and Nadir to escape. For his culpability, Zurga is put to death in their place.
The Creative Team
|Stage Director||Andrew Sinclair|
|Set and Costume Designer||Zandra Rhodes|
|Lighting Designer||Kendall Smith|
|Leïla, a Brahmin priestess||Isabel Bayrakdarian|
|Nadir, a fisherman||Jesus Garcia|
|Zurga, head fisherman||Philip Cutlip|
|Nourabad, high priest of Brahma||Jonathan Kimple|
|Fishermen, Indians, Brahmins|
|Ceylon in ancient times|
Isabel Bayrakdarian (Leïla)
Isabel Bayrakdarian burst onto the international opera scene after winning first prize in the 2000 Operalia competition founded by Plácido Domingo. Since then she has performed in many of the world's major opera houses and concert halls. She is admired as much for her stunning stage presence as for her exceptional musicality, and she has followed a career path completely her own.
In the 2009–2010 season Ms. Bayrakdarian reprises the title role in The Cunning Little Vixen with Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino with Seiji Ozawa, and sings her role debut as Ilia in Idomeneo at the Paris Opera and the Canadian Opera Company under Emmanuelle Haïm and Harry Bicket respectively. Additionally, she makes her debut with Minnesota Opera in her acclaimed portrayal as Leïla in Les pêcheurs de perles. She also appears in recital with her husband, pianist Serouj Kradjian, with Cornell University, Sunday Afternoons of Music in Coral Gables, Florida, and the Women's Musical Club of Toronto at the recently renovated Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.
Operatic highlights of Ms. Bayrakdarian's recent seasons include her role debut of Mélisande in Pélleas et Mélisande at the Canadian Opera Company, the title role in The Cunning Little Vixen at the Saito Kinen Festival under the baton of Seiji Ozawa, the title role of L'incoronazione di Poppea at Teatro del Liceu, and her role debut as Blanche in Robert Carsen's production of Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites at the Lyric Opera of Chicago with Sir Andrew Davis. A consummate Mozartarian, she has appeared as Zerlina in Don Giovanni and Pamina in Die Zauberflöte at the Metropolitan Opera, Zerlina at the Salzburg Festival, Despina in Così fan tutte at the Palau de les Arts in Valencia and Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro at Covent Garden and the Houston Grand Opera.
In the 2008–2009 season Ms. Bayrakdarian toured North America at such prestigious organizations such as Carnegie Hall, San Francisco Performances, Celebrity Series of Boston, Philharmonic Society of Orange County, Roy Thomson Hall and the Vancouver Symphony with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra conducted by Anne Manson performing the works of Armenian composer Gomidas Vartabed in a program created by she and Mr. Kradjian. Additional appearances on the orchestral platform, include performances with the orchestras in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, as well as at home in Canada with the Toronto Symphony, Tafelmusik, Les Violons du Roy, the National Arts Centre Orchestra and other major Canadian performing organizations, as well as with numerous groups in Europe. Other orchestral appearances included debuts with the Chicago and Montreal Symphonies – both in the Mahler Fourth Symphony – under David Zinman and James Conlon respectively. She has also participated in tango concerts at Toronto's Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts and at Stratford Summer Music. She collaborated in the world-premiere of Jake Heggie and Gene Sheer's one-act opera To Hell and Back with Broadway legend Patti LuPone and San Francisco's Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra.
Often partnered with Mr. Kradjian, Ms. Bayrakdarian has triumphed in recital in New York's Carnegie Hall, Berkeley, Boston, San Francisco, and elsewhere in the United States. Additionally they have toured Canada together, in such cities as Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, and Ottawa, as well as major cities in Europe and Asia. Of Ms. Bayrakdarian's March 2008 Carnegie Hall appearance, the New York Sun commented that "she is a solid, smart, and well-prepared singer. And she gave a most enjoyable – even instructive – recital on Saturday night. Indeed, you could say that her recital did what a voice recital ought to do: provide a kind of tour, and showcase the talents and personality of a winning artist."
Ms. Bayrakdarian sings on the Grammy® award-winning soundtrack of the blockbuster film The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers, and her voice can also be heard in the multiple award-winning Canadian film Ararat. She has been honored with four Juno awards, Canada's highest recording prize, most recently for her CD Mozart arie & duetti with fellow Canadians Russell Braun and Michael Schade. Expanding her vast discography, Ms. Bayrkdarian was a guest soloist with the Canadian band Delerium on their 2007 Grammy® nominated dance remix "Angelicus." Ms. Bayrakdarian is the subject of a CBC-TV film entitled A Long Journey Home that documents her first trip to Armenia; on another trip there she recorded a disc of songs by the country's national composer, Gomidas Vartabed (1869–1935), with Serouj Kradjian and the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra which is available on the Nonesuch label and was a 2009 Grammy® nominee.
Ms. Bayrakdarian has received many grants and other awards in addition to the First Prize in the Operalia: four Juno awards, the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal, the 2005 Virginia Parker Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Leonie Rysanek Award from the George London Foundation and a Metropolitan Opera National Council Award in 1997.
Born in Lebanon of proud Armenian heritage and now a citizen of Canada, Ms. Bayrakdarian moved with her family to Toronto as a teenager. Her earliest singing experience was at church, which remains – along with her family – the central focus of her life. She holds an honors degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Toronto.
Philip Cutlip (Zurga)
Philip Cutlip has garnered consistent critical acclaim for his performances in both North America and Europe. Established on both concert and opera stages, he has performed with a distinguished list of conductors that includes Nicholas McGegan, Yves Abel, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Gerard Schwarz and Donald Runnicles.
In 2009–2010, Philip Cutlip reprises the title role in Philip Glass' Orphée; sings Zurga in Les pêcheurs de perles with Minnesota Opera; Ariodate in Xerses with Houston Grand Opera; Guglielmo in Così fan tutte with Jacksonville Opera Theatre; Tarquinius in The Rape of Lucretia with Toledo Opera; and as soloist in Handel's Messiah, and as featured soloist in a holiday concert, both with the Nashville Symphony.
Mr. Cutlip's 2008–2009 season included the role of the Count in Utah Opera's Le nozze di Figaro; Nadir in Les pêcheurs de perles with Opera Columbus; and Zoroastro in Handel's Orlando with Moscow State Philharmonic Society. He also appeared as soloist with Phoenix Symphony in Haydn's The Creation; with Nashville and Richmond symphonies in Messiah, also with San Diego Symphony, with which he sang Baroque concerts; in Mendelssohn's Elijah with the Choral Art Society of Portland (ME); in Mozart's Requiem with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra; in Fauré's Requiem with the Charlotte Symphony; in Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with the Oregon Symphony; Dvorák's Te Deum and excerpts from his opera Jacobin with Chicago Symphony Orchestra; and with Frans Brüggen's Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, singing selected Bach cantatas. He returned again to the New York Festival of Song, and to the Gran Teatre del Liceu to sing Mandarin in Turandot.
Among Mr. Cutlip's recent successes on the operatic stage are his critically acclaimed Glimmerglass Opera debut as the title role in Philip Glass's Orphée, his return to Seattle Opera to sing Marcello in La bohème, and his return to the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona to sing Mattieux in Andrea Chénier. He also recently appeared as Rodrigo in Don Carlo with Hawaii Opera Theatre, Sharpless in Madama Butterfly with both Austin Lyric Opera and Arizona Opera, and made his debut with Houston Grand Opera as Donald in Billy Budd. Throughout his career, Mr. Cutlip has portrayed many of opera's most well-known baritone roles including Papageno in Die Zauberflöte with New York City Opera and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Harlequin in Ariadne auf Naxos with Seattle Opera, the title roles in both Don Giovanni and Il barbiere di Siviglia with Opera Birmingham, Malatesta in Don Pasquale with Fort Worth Opera and Guglielmo in Così fan tutte with Arizona Opera.
Mr. Cutlip has also appeared as soloist with nearly every major North American orchestra. His extensive list of concert credits include performances with New York Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony Orchestra, Oratorio Society of New York at Carnegie Hall, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, North Carolina Symphony and the Minnesota Orchestra. He has performed such works as Bach's Christmas Oratorio with the Handel and Haydn Society under Grant Llewellyn, Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Charles Dutoit, Brahms's Requiem with the Portland Symphony Orchestra, Carmina burana with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and Haydn's The Seasons with Philadelphia Baroque. He also performed Handel arias written for Mantagnana with La Stagione Frankfurt ensemble as well as Handel's Belshazzar at the Göttingen Festival in Germany.
A distinctive element in Mr. Cutlip's career is his ongoing collaboration with well-established dance companies and avant-garde ensembles alike, starting with his first appearance with the New York City Ballet to perform songs by Charles Ives. He has toured internationally with the Hamburg Ballet singing Bernstein's Dances, and has appeared on European and American tours of Philip Glass's Les enfants terribles, including the world premiere in Zug, Switzerland. His performance of the Glass work was released on Glass's Orange Mountain label. Mr. Cutlip has appeared with the Mark Morris Dance Company in performances of Morris's popular fully-staged dance production of Handel's L'allegro, il pensoroso ed il moderato at Lincoln Center, the Ravinia Festival and at Cal Performances on the UC Berkeley campus.
Jesus Garcia (Nadir)
Internationally acclaimed tenor, Jesus Garcia, has quickly become one of opera's most sought-after young rising stars. His dynamic stage presence and soaring vocalism make him ideal for the romantic roles of the Italian and French repertoire.
Mr. Garcia is the recipient of numerous awards including a 2003 Tony Award Honor for his work as Rodolfo in Baz Luhrmann's production of Puccini's La bohème on Broadway. He has also been a winner in numerous competions including Plácido Domingo's Operalia, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, George London, the Licia Albanese and the Marquerite McCammon International Vocal Competitions and the Dallas Opera Guild Career Development Grant. Previous roles include his critically acclaimed portrayal of Jean in Massenet's miracle opera, Le jongleur de Notre Dame; Fenton in Falstaff, Ernesto in Don Pasquale, Tebaldo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Ferrando in Così fan tutte, Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Elvino in La sonnambula, Tonio in La fille du régiment, Ramiro in La Cenerentola, Alfred in Die Fledermaus, Alfredo in La traviata, Almaviva in Il barbiere di Seviglia and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly. Company credits include the Houston Grand Opera, the Berlin Staatsoper, the Washington National Opera, the Hamburg Staatsoper, Opera National de Bordeaux, Opera National de Lyon, Opera Company of Philadelphia, New Zealand Opera, L'Esplanade Massenet Festival in St. Etienne, France; the Dallas Opera, Michigan Opera Theater, Palm Beach Opera, Arizona Opera, Central City Opera and the Spoleto Festival USA. In the 2008 season, Mr. Garcia sang Rodolfo in New Zealand, Rio de Janiero and the State Theatre in Prague and the Verdi Requiem in Marseilles.
Recent engagements include Les pêcheurs de perles (Nadir) in Toulon and Minnesota, Idomeneo (Arbace) in Nancy and Jenufa (Steva) in Marseilles. Upcoming roles include Odivio in the world premiere of Before Night Falls at Fort Worth Opera and Gérald in Lakmé for Opéra de Toulon. Jesus Garcia has made several television appearances including the Today show, "Breakfast with the Arts" on A&E and the 2003 Tony Awards. He has also been featured in the pages of numerous magazines including Vogue, Vanity Fair, New York and Opera News.
Jonathan Kimple (Nourabad)
Bass-baritone Jonathan Kimple recently completed Portland Opera's Studio Artist Program, where he sang the roles of Giove in Cavalli's La Calisto, Count Ceprano in Rigoletto and the Marchese d'Obigny in La traviata while covering the role of Don Pizarro in Fidelio. As a Santa Fe Apprentice Artist, Mr. Kimple covered the roles of Farasmane in Handel's Radamisto, the title role in Le nozze di Figaro and Alcindoro/Benoit in La bohème. For Sarasota Opera he has sung Count Ceprano in Rigoletto and covered Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte. Other credits include the Sergeant of Police in The Pirates of Penzance for Virginia Opera, Colline (cover) in La bohème for Dicapo Opera and the Grand Prêtre in Antonio Sacchini's Oedipe à Colone for Opera Lafayette.
Originally from central Iowa, Mr. Kimple obtained his bachelor of music degree from the University of Maryland and his master of music degree from Manhattan School of Music, where he performed the roles of William Emmons in The Village Singer and Simone in Gianni Schicchi. He has also attended the Music Academy of the West, covering Don Profondo for its production of Il viaggio a Reims. As a Minnesota Opera resident artist, Mr. Kimple will sing Nourabad in The Pearl Fishers, the Second Inquisitor and Tartaglia in Casanova's Homecoming, Gualtiero Raleigh in Roberto Devereux, Colline in La bohème and the Second Soldier in Salome.
John Malashock (choreographer)
After a distinguished performing career with Twyla Tharp Dance in New York and other companies, John Malashock founded Malashock Dance in 1988. He brings 35 years of experience in the fields of dance and theater to his current endeavors as its Artistic Director, where he has created nearly 60 original choreographic works. Malashock began his performing career with the Utah Repertory Dance Theatre, working with such distinguished choreographers as Lar Lubovitch, Anna Sokolow, Donald McKayle and Jennifer Muller. With the Tharp Company, Malashsock performed worldwide, was featured in numerous television specials (Dance in America, The Catherine Wheel, Twyla Tharp Scrapbook), appeared in the Academy Award winning Film Amadeus, and performed in benefit concerts with Baryshnikov and Cynthia Gregory.
Zandra Rhodes (set and costume designer)
Zandra Rhodes was born in Chatham, Kent, UK in 1940 and introduced to the world of fashion by her mother, a fitter for the Paris fashion House of Worth and later a lecturer at Medway College of Art. Zandra studied at Medway College and then at The Royal College of Art in London. Her major area of study was printed textile design.
In the last few years Zandra's career has diversified into designing the sets and costumes for operas internationally. She first worked for the opera in 2001, when San Diego Opera invited her to do costumes for The Magic Flute. She was then asked to design both sets and costumes for Bizet's The Pearl Fishers in 2004. This has already toured five cities in the United States including San Francisco and New York, Washington National Opera and L'Opéra de Montreal.
Andrew Sinclair (stage director)
Andrew Sinclair has been resident stage director at the Royal Opera Covent Garden since 1986 when he debuted there with Die Fledermaus. Since then he has directed Lohengrin, Aida, Tosca, Die Zauberflöte, Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, Werther, Tannhauser, Peter Grimes and Rosenkavaler. Most recently he directed their semi-staging of Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Royal Albert Hall and directed revivals of Der Rosenkavalier and Tosca. For the Royal Academy's Garden Venture in London sponsored by the Royal Opera he directed the world premiere of Caedmon.
In October 2003, Andrew Sinclair debuted in Italy with Verdi's I masnadieri at the Teatro Comunale of Bologna. He returned to San Diego Opera to stage a new production of Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles in February 2004 which has since been successfully revived in Mr Sinclair's staging at Michigan Opera Theatre, San Francisco Opera, New York City Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Washington National Opera, Opera Colorado, L'Opera de Montreal, and in 2009, Minnesota Opera.
Upcoming engagements include La traviata with San Diego Opera and La bohème with Opera Colorado in 2010.
Mr. Sinclair returned to San Diego Opera for Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in 2006 and again in 2008 to stage Donizetti's Maria Stuarda and Puccini's Tosca. He was a guest stage director at Indiana University for L'elisir d'amore in July 2007.
During the 2002 season, the Australian native produced Peter Grimes and a double bill of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci for Opera Australia in Sydney and Melbourne and return to Covent Garden for a revival of Tosca. In 2001, Andrew Sinclair staged Aida for the San Diego Opera, where he had debuted the year before with Lohengrin. Mr. Sinclair has produced Norma for San Francisco Opera and Le nozze di Figaro for Seattle Opera. He made his South American debut with Lohengrin at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.
Mr. Sinclair began his association with Australian Opera in 1981 directing new stagings of La bohème and The Bartered Bride. From 1983 to 1985 he was Principal Resident Director of the company, during which time he staged new productions of Otello and Die Walküre as well as Das Rheingold, Tosca, Un ballo in maschera, The Consul, Figaro and La bohème, which was taped for video and won an Emmy Award in 1989. He has also directed for all the major Australian opera companies and for Canterbury Opera in Christchurch and Wellington City Opera in New Zealand.
Kendall Smith (lighting designer)
Regional Opera companies include San Diego Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Michigan Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, San Antonio Opera, Indianapolis Opera, Virginia Opera, Dayton Opera and Eugene Opera. As the Resident Designer for Michigan Opera Theatre for the last twenty years, he has designed over 55 productions. His theater credits include Indiana Repertory Theater, Weston Playhouse, Merrimack Repertory Theater, Pioneer Theatre in Salt Lake City, North Shore Music Theater, Brunswick Music Theater, Geva Theater, Studio Theatrer in DC, Connecticut Repertory Theater, Barter Theater and American Stage Festival.
Leonardo Vordoni (conductor)
Born in Trieste - Italy, Leonardo Vordoni studied piano at the Conservatorio Tartini, composition at the Accademia Musicale in Portogruaro, and earned a diploma in opera conducting at Bologna's Reale Accademia Filarmonica. His conducting debut in 2004 at the Teatro Mancinelli in Orvieto was with Così fan tutte which received considerable critical acclaim, and he returned there in 2005 for Il matrimonio segreto. Collaborations with Edoardo Muller include L'italiana in Algeri with Seattle Opera, La Cenerentola for Houston Grand Opera and Il trovatore and Le nozze di Figaro for San Diego Opera. Recognized for his musicality and interpretation, he has given master classes in Italian repertoire across the United States for young artists programs including San Francisco Opera, Seattle and Utah Operas, Santa Fe, Kansas University, UMKC Conservatory, University of North Texas in conjunction with La Fenice in Castelfranco, Veneto, as well as coaching for the Accademia Rossiniana in Pesaro. Leonardo Vordoni is also Assistant Conductor at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Productions include Macbeth, La traviata, Aida, La clemenza di Tito, La bohème, Un ballo in maschera, Norma and Madama Butterfly. He is also cover conductor for L'elisir d'amore this season. During the 2007–2008 season, Leonardo made his conducting debut at the internationally renowned Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro for a concert of music associated with Maria Malibran, with mezzo Joyce DiDonato as soloist. The 2008–2009 season saw Leonardo's prestigious Wexford Opera debut, conducting Pedrotti's Tutti in maschera. Later in the season, he conducted Madama Butterfly with Madison Opera and La Cenerentola for Orlando Opera. Looking ahead, he will conduct Il barbiere di Siviglia for both Opera Colorado and Houston Grand Opera and L'italiana in Algeri for Utah Opera.
The Pearl Fishers
Music by Georges Bizet
Given the astounding popularity the opera Carmen eventually achieved, it's surprising how little success Georges Bizet would realize in his short lifetime. Even the one-act Djamileh and the incomplete Ivan IV demonstrate his extraordinary gifts, but fate would not be kind. Twelve years earlier, at age 24 with six operas in various stages under his belt, Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) would be only his second full-scale work to reach the stage. The opera had a somewhat reputable run of performances, with the score winning thunderous praise from the public. Collaborators Eugène Cormon and Michel Carré guiltily proclaimed that they would have written a better libretto, had they known Bizet's true talent.
The two librettists had in fact plagiarized themselves, having recycled text from a failed opera, Les pêcheurs de Catane, with music by Aimé Maillart first presented at the Théâtre Lyrique in 1860. The title was temporarily changed to Leïla and the setting to Mexico, the fishers becoming Native American, until the political situation in that country became too topical. In league with France, the Austrian emperor's brother Maximilian was sent to quell the uprising and rule the Mexican people, which would ultimately lead to his execution. The mystery of ancient Ceylon proved to be a much safer location.
Part of Pêcheurs' everlasting appeal is its exotic nature. Exoticism was in full bloom in 19th-century France – stories of faraway places were very attractive to the escapist bourgeoisie. Fatigued by the regimentation of war and the mechanization of industry, they were unlikely to dare (in those days) an arduous journey beyond the provinces. Even the Occitan of southern France had a dangerous sense of the untamed.
Exoticism as a genre finds its roots at the turn of the 19th century with Napoleon's Egyptian campaigns. Besides raping the country of pyramids and obelisks, the future emperor generated new interest in the Orient, at that time considered to be Northern Africa and the Middle East. By mid-century, periodicals such as the Revue des deux mondes and Le Globe glamorized these locales during an era when translations of The Arabian Nights also became quite popular. Visual artists, such as Eugène Delacroix and Horace Vernet, used their own experiences (either real or imagined) to recreate the color and vibrancy of foreign cultures as seen through Western eyes. As more regular travel expanded to the Near and Far East, so did possibilities for new subjects. These are evidenced in part by Jean-Léon Gérôme's hyper-realist depictions of Arabia, by the Impressionists' interest in Japanese prints and patterns, and toward the century's turn, Paul Gauguin's vibrant Tahitian scenes and Henri Matisse's dazzling visions of Morocco. New themes and subjects enticed an increasingly wealthy and burgeoning middle class. Their easy money created a demand for ready-made works at Parisian salons, while royal commissions fell by the wayside.
Literature and music followed suit, exemplified by Victor Hugo's Les Orientales, Gérard de Nerval's Le voyage en Orient, Sir Walter Scott's The Talisman, Gustave Flaubert's Salammbô and Prosper Mérimée's Carmen, first appearing in the Revue des deux mondes in 1845. Even Spain (the setting of Carmen), with its Moorish history and geographic isolation, had been grouped into the Occidental Mediterranean. In music, Félicien David composed Mélodies orientales in 1836 from his notebook of foreign tunes, followed by a highly influential symphonic poem, Le désert, and the operas La perle du Brésil, Lalla-Roukh and Herculanum. Generally considered the forerunner of the movement, his music drew high praise from the overly critical (and often jealous) Hector Berlioz. David inspired all the major composers of the day: Giacomo Meyerbeer (L'Africaine, set on a nameless island in Indian Ocean), Gounod (La reine de Saba, set in the Levant), Bizet (Djamileh, set in Cairo), Jacques Offenbach (Ba-ta-clan, set in China; also the Giulietta act of Les contes d'Hoffmann is set in Venice, traditionally considered part of Byzantium), Saint-Saëns (Samson et Dalila, set in the Middle East), Ambroise Thomas' Le caïd (set in Algeria), and Jules Massenet (Le roi de Lahore, set in what is now Pakistan). Biblical subjects, traditionally taking place in Palestine and Egypt, attracted new significance as composers sought to recreate actual or artificial melodies. Non-traditional scales, ancient modes and altered intervals began to color both staged and orchestral works. Even Verdi's Aida (set in Egypt) draws its exotic moments from this approach – in fact, all of that composer's operas in the French model fit into this category: Aida, though originally written for Cairo, had its eye toward a Paris premiere; Don Carlos, set in Spain, again features "Moorish" harmonies in Eboli's "Veil Song;" Les vêpres siciliennes, set in Sicily, another untamed, remote outpost; and Jérusalem, set in Palestine. Opportunities for sumptuous scenic design easily followed suit in an effort to provide visual titillation with detailed pictorial accuracy.
Current events also played a role, as Britain and France scrambled to conquer the known world. British intrusion influenced the Middle East and Egypt as the Ottoman Empire was eventually reduced to a fraction of its former glory, the conflict of nations and of religions being key features of Orientalism. The Suez Canal opened in 1869 (an event that eventually was to bring Verdi's Aida into existence), making travel to foreign places all the more convenient. India revolted against its imperial overlords, only to be confiscated by the British crown (a deal sealed by Queen Victoria's elevation to empress in 1877). Japan begrudgingly opened its doors to Commodore Perry, while the less fortunate French vied for supremacy around the perimeter, on the coasts of Africa and in the expansive South Seas. In this quest for acquiring land mass, the contrast of the Orient ("them") helped define the European West ("us"). The newly constrained world was celebrated by the Industrial Age in a series of world exhibitions hosted by London and Paris. During these events, composers and artists found a high profile venue where one could find financial backing in order to experiment with new trends to their fullest potential.
European behavior in a distant setting was allowed to break social and sexual taboos (described by Orientalist guru Edward Saïd as a "free zone"), often leading to the destruction of a naïve indigenous girl. Antiquated religious practices also displayed European Christian superiority. A pagan priestess in violation of her vows is a familiar operatic theme, most notably in Vincenzo Bellini's Norma or Gaspare Spontini's La vestale. Léo Delibes' later opera about another errant priestess, Lakmé, shows a debt to the genre, Pêcheurs in particular – compare the title character's virtuosic Bell Song to the budding fioritura in Leïla's "Dans le ciel sans voile."
The forward-thinking Lyrique was no stranger to this brand of opera. Not subject to the limitations imposed upon the Opéra, Opéra-Comique or the Théâtre Italien, it was a house devoted to producing new works from young composers. The theater presented 118 original operas during its 19-year history and gave rise to the popularity of Gounod (Faust, Mireille and Roméo et Juliette were premiered there), Léo Delibes (Le jardinier et son seigneur) and Hector Berlioz (Les Troyens à Carthage), among others. The theater was also known for mounting translations of Italian and German works. All of the major Mozart operas were performed there, as well as Verdi's Rigoletto, La traviata (as Violetta), Macbeth (in a revised version for Paris) and Un ballo in maschera. Originally located on the Boulevard du Temple in the Marais district, the theater fell victim to Baron Haussmann's Paris re-design. It was relocated just north of the Seine at the Place du Châtelet and presently houses the Théâtre de la Ville (but was once named after the legendary actress, Sarah Bernhardt, who produced theater there in the early 20th century). Unable to withstand its own costly avant-garde programming, the theater closed in 1870.
In 1863, Les pêcheurs de perles seemed to have a rosy future. The opera ran in repertory with Mozart's Les noces de Figaro and was followed by Part One of Berlioz' epic Trojan drama. The public liked it, but the critics didn't as they incongruously described the opera as both "Wagnerian" and derivative from the Italian school. Nonetheless, Bizet's early opus became somewhat popular in Italian translation – Pietro Mascagni and Giacomo Puccini most likely saw it in Milan while students in the 1880s and drew inspiration from Bizet's orchestration. For a period of time, the opera was more popular in Italy than in France, until a 1932 revival at the Opéra-Comique that would achieve more than 800 performances. Productions in the 20th and 21st centuries still rely on Carmen's popularity to get audiences in the door, but in spite of a rather thin plot and undeveloped stock characters, Les pêcheurs de perles remains an attractive, sumptuous score, giving us a hint of Bizet's genius.
b Paris, October 25, 1838; d Bougival, June 3, 1875
Georges Bizet's short career was primarily devoted to opera, reaching a remarkable climax in 1875 with Carmen. This now-famous opera followed a succession of complete and incomplete works that had no great success in Bizet's lifetime. Only six operas survive in a performable text.
Bizet's childhood was steeped in music. His mother, Aimée, was the sister of François Delsarte, who would become famous for his development of singing and acting technique. It was at his home where Aimée met her future husband, Adolphe Bizet, also a music teacher. Young Georges entered the Paris Conservatoire in October 1848, just before his tenth birthday. He developed extraordinary gifts as a pianist and score-reader and won prizes for both piano and organ playing. Among his earliest works from the mid 1850s was Le Docteur Miracle, a comic opera in the Italian style. It was composed for a competition offered by Jacques Offenbach's Bouffes-Parisiens theater, for which he shared first prize. Soon after, Bizet won the prestigious Prix de Rome, and while in Italy, he composed Don Procopio, the first of a series of yearly submissions expected by the Académie.
In compliance with a related subsidy, the Opéra-Comique was required to produce works by Prix de Rome winners. When Bizet returned from Italy in 1860, the theater commissioned him to write La guzla de l'émir, which was put into rehearsal but then withdrawn when the composer received a much more promising offer from the Théâtre Lyrique for Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers). No music for La guzla de l'émir survives, but documents from the Académie suggest that the famous duet in Act i of Pêcheurs was salvaged from it.
Although admired by many, Les pêcheurs de perles was not well received by the press, and dropped out of the French repertoire until after Bizet's death. Léon Carvalho, director of the Théâtre Lyrique, reaffirmed his faith in Bizet by commissioning a grand opera with a libretto Gounod had abandoned, Ivan IV. Carvalho's repeated postponements, however, drove Bizet to offer the piece to the Opéra, where it was rejected.
Several years of financial difficulty followed, and the composer was forced to arrange transcriptions for publishers Choudens and Heugel in order to support himself. He had kept up his piano skills (which had at one time drawn attention from the virtuoso Franz Liszt) and served as rehearsal pianist for various occasions. By 1867, Bizet had become engaged to Geneviève, daughter of the famed composer Fromental Halévy, but her family postponed the marriage for two years because of his reduced economic circumstances.
Bizet had signed another contract with Carvalho for La jolie fille de Perth (The Fair Maid of Perth), inspired by the current rage for operas based on Sir Walter Scott. The new work finally reached the stage in December 1867, where it played for 18 performances – again too few to ensure a Parisian revival in the composer's lifetime.
In the ensuing years, several projects proposed for the Opéra-Comique came to nothing. Of these, only Clarissa Harlowe and Grisélidis survive in draft. Djamileh, however, was produced in 1872. Though bowing to the recent trend for Oriental themes, Djamileh still failed to please its audience and was withdrawn after a short run. The Opéra-Comique next commissioned a full-length opera, set to text by the notable team of Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy (Geneviève's cousin), which would become Carmen. Bizet still dreamed of producing a work at the Opéra and found time to compose Don Rodrigue (inspired by Guillém da Castro y Bellvís' Las mocedades del Cid) after production of Carmen had been delayed. But the old Opéra burned down on October 28, 1873, and the composer would not be able to achieve this ambition during his brief existence.
Hendricks, Aler, Quilico, Courtis
Plasson; Chœur et Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse
Cotrubas, Vanzo, Sarabia, Soyer
Prêtre; Orchestre de l’Opéra de Paris
classics for pleasure
Bizet and His World
Alfred A. Knopf
Georges Bizet: His Life and Work
J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.
The Keys to French Opera in the Nineteenth Century
University of California Pre
FOR MORE INFORMATION
A class devoted to The Pearl Fishers will be held on Monday, September 14, 2009, from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Call 612-333-6669 for registration information or visit mnopera.org/learn/classes.