GP at the Met: The Pearl Fishers (Pêcheurs de Perles)

About the Opera

The Met’s acclaimed new production of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers (Les Pêcheurs de Perles), a rarity by the composer of Carmen that has not been staged by the company in a century, comes to THIRTEEN’S Great Performances at the Met for the first time Sunday, May 22 at 12 p.m. on PBS(Check local listings). In New York, THIRTEEN will air the opera on Sunday, May 29 at 12:30 p.m.

Conducted by Gianandrea Noseda and directed by Penny Woolcock, Bizet’s sweeping romance tells the story of a beautiful Hindu priestess pursued by rival pearl divers competing for her hand. Diana Damrau leads the cast as the priestess Leïla, opposite Matthew Polenzani as Nadir, Mariusz Kwiecien as Zurga, and Nicolas Testé as the high priest Nourabad.

Original Premiere

The 1863 opera premiered at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris, 1863. Critics at the time were not especially enthused but the audience was swept up in the ravishing score tinged with the allure of a mythical South Asian setting. The drama itself remains within the conventional standards of the day, with a love triangle complicated by the true friendship of the two men involved in it.

Opera Setting

The opera was originally set in Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) in non-historic “ancient times,” signifying an exotic land with a mythical and romantic aura. The Met’s new production places the action in an unspecified locale in the Far East.

About the Score

In addition to its striking lyrical expression, the score is filled with surprising and delightful features throughout. The important role of the chorus is evident from the opening number, with its extraordinarily beautiful middle section for men’s voices. The orchestral writing is equally sophisticated, especially in the subtle touches of instrumentation. But it is the remarkable solos and ensembles that have made the opera impossible to forget, chief among them the celebrated duet for the tenor and baritone, “Au fond du temple saint.” Its abundant melody miraculously encompasses a profusion of diverse sentiment, from religious ecstasy to exalted friendship to sadness and loss.

Les Pêcheurs de Perles at the Met

Before the current 2015–16 season, The Pearl Fishers had only received four performances at the Met. Three of them, in 1916, starred Enrico Caruso and Giuseppe De Luca.

“When word gets around,” The New York Times predicted in its review earlier this season, “the sleeper hit of the Metropolitan Opera season could be the new production of Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers)… The British director and filmmaker Penny Woolcock, working with a dream cast… delivers in this sensitive and insightful production. Ms. Damrau brings brilliant coloratura agility, radiant sound and charisma galore to the role of Leila. Mr. Kwiecien is an ideal Zurga. Singing with burnished sound and lyrical richness… Mr. Polenzani sang this haunting aria of remembrance with wondrous lyrical tenderness while conveying the music’s gently swaying gait.”

New York Magazine raved, “Gianandrea Noseda leads a gilded performance of the tremblingly French score… Matthew Polenzani, a tenor of enormous gifts and versatility, commands a legato so smooth it’s practically liquid. Mariusz Kwiecien brings a muscular authority and tough-guy tenderness to Zurga, the potentate with a heart of gold. As Leila, Diana Damrau spends a good deal of time behind a veil, but there’s nothing retiring about the way she unleashes her voice, which gyres about the stage in a swirl of golden notes.”

Soprano Patricia Racette hosts the broadcast.

Production Credits and Funders Print

The Pearl Fishers was originally seen live in movie theaters on January 16 as part of the groundbreaking The Met: Live in HD series, which transmits live performances to more than 2,000 movie theaters and performing arts centers in over 70 countries around the world. The Live in HD series has reached a record-breaking 19 million viewers since its inception in 2006.

Great Performances at the Met is a presentation of THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET, one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers.

Corporate support for Great Performances at the Met is provided by Toll Brothers, America’s luxury home builder®. Major funding for the Met Opera presentation is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. This Great Performances presentation is funded by the Irene Diamond Fund, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, The Agnes Varis Trust, and public television viewers.

For the Met, Matthew Diamond directs the telecast. Jay David Saks is Music Producer. Mia Bongiovanni and Elena Park are Supervising Producers, and Louisa Briccetti and Victoria Warivonchik are Producers. Peter Gelb is Executive Producer.  For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is Series Producer; David Horn is Executive Producer.