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Effectively shaped

Bizet's 'The Pearl Fishers',
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


Bizet's The Pearl Fishers is a curious work. Stripped of its exotic setting, which is pretty false to start with, it's a piece of more or less standard-issue nineteenth-century operatic hokum -- love at odds with the social set-up, noble self-sacrificing baritone, implacable bass authority figure. The music, though, struggles to rise above the conventions, and often succeeds, as even the librettists had the good grace to acknowledge.

Fabienne Borget as Leila and Brendan Wheatley as Nourabad in the Swansea City Opera production of 'The Pearl Fishers'
Fabienne Borget as Leila and Brendan Wheatley as Nourabad in the Swansea City Opera production of 'The Pearl Fishers'

Swansea City Opera's current touring production manages only partially to bring the work to life. The music was effectively shaped by conductor Philip Sunderland, but visually there was too much reliance on stock gestures and rather wooden movements. The singing was of a variable standard. Nicholas Ransley's Nadir and Fabienne Borget's Leila rose to the demands of their respective big arias, but Brendan Wheatley's Nourabad suffered from heavy vibrato and a stolid stage presence. The choral singing was well blended.

Brendan Wheatley as Nourabad
Brendan Wheatley as Nourabad

The ten-strong orchestra played with spirit, but tuning, particularly in the strings, was sometimes insecure.

The designs were good to look at, the blues and greens of the set contrasting with the various reds, golds and white of the costumes, and there was some effective lighting.

Since an edition of Bizet's original 1863 score has been available for thirty years, it's a pity that Swansea City Opera used the crudely melodramatic ending of Zurga being killed for allowing the lovers to escape, one of many tinkerings with the final scene done after Bizet's death. But if you're going to do it, it needs to be done more convincingly that it was on this occasion which was, frankly, downright clumsy.

Copyright © 15 February 2006 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


The performance reviewed took place at The Assembly Rooms, Derby, on 9 February 2006.

Swansea City Opera is touring the UK with The Pearl Fishers and The Barber of Seville until 3 May 2006, with performances in Newport, Milford Haven, Mansfield, Bedworth, Gloucester, Harlow, Huddersfield, Isle of Man, Chelmsford, Stafford, Blackwood, Bracknell, Keswick and Rhyll. Full schedule at

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