Virginia Opera's 'Pearl Fishers' coming to GMU

New Virginia Opera production of Bizet's opera a first. Photo: Virginia Opera/David A. Beloff

WASHINGTON, October 7, 2012 – When opera fans hear the name of French Romantic composer Georges Bizet, their thoughts alight unhesitatingly on his ever-popular operatic masterpiece, Carmen. And why not? Loaded with melodrama and songs that range from the catchy to the irresistible, is music is even recognized by folks who’ve never attended an opera in their lives.

But in his short life, Bizet was a composer of considerable range, composing serious instrumental music, occasional patriotic potboilers, and at least one other opera of note, Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers), which the Virginia Opera will perform this coming weekend at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in Fairfax City.

Leila (Heather Buck) and chorus in Virginia Opera’s ‘Pearl Fishers.’ (Credit: Virginia Opera/David A. Beloff)

The Pearl Fishers encountered a rocky early history. It premiered in 1863, ten years prior to Carmen, achieved some note, but quickly disappeared from the repertoire. The public is said to have loved it, but unfriendly critics gave it a drubbing. Making matters worse for this opera’s afterlife, its original holograph score was lost. Even so, some semblance of Bizet’s original score was cobbled together again from various performing versions, and the opera was successfully revived in the 1880s, some years after the composer’s untimely death at the age of 36.

It was only in the 1970s, however, when scholars endeavored to re-create Bizet’s original performing version of the score that the opera started gaining traction once again in the regular repertoire. Its relative popularity still rests on the opera’s phenomenal Act I duet, “Au fond du temple saint” (roughly, “In the farthest reaches of the holy temple”), during which eventual rivals Zurga (David Pershall) and Nadir (Chad Johnson) pledge their undying friendship. That pledge doesn’t last very long, alas, as these two Ceylonese pearl fishers are actually in love with the same woman—the temple priestess Leila (Heather Buck)—which gives the opera its tragic turn.

The Virginia Opera’s brand new production of Pearl Fishers is also its first, as the company sets out this fall to fulfill its new pledge to perform one opera per season that it’s never staged before. While the Washington National Opera performed this work several seasons ago in a colorful Kennedy Center production, the Virginia Opera’s new production is likely the first time it’s been performed professionally in Northern Virginia.

For its current production—called a “satisfying and moving experience” in a review appearing in the Virginian-Pilot—the Virginia Opera has assembled a talented cast including soprano Heather Buck, who was outstanding in last season’s surprisingly effective production of Philip Glass’ Orphée; tenor Chad A. Johnson; and baritone David Pershall.

Virginia Opera newcomers Anne Manson and Tazewell Thompson respectively will be conducting and directing these Fairfax performances, which will be staged at George Mason on Friday evening and Sunday afternoon October 12 and 14.

Here’s a brief Virginia Opera video that introduces this new production:

Tickets for The Pearl Fishers range in price from a reasonable $44-72 dollars apiece, and tickets are free for students with a GMU ID. For those not familiar with the opera, a free pre-performance lecture/discussion will be available at 7 p.m. (one hour prior to curtain) at the Center for the Arts.

For tickets and further information, visit GMU’s Center for the Arts website, or call the Box Office at 703-993-2787.

Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.

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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times (1994-2009). 

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