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The Pearl Fishers

The Pearl Fishers

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10/24/08 at 8 p.m.
10/26/08 at 2 p.m.

Ohio Theatre

Production Details
Opera in three acts
Music by Georges Bizet
Libretto by Eugène Cormon and Michel Carré
World Première: September 30, 1863 at the Théâtre-Lyrique in Paris

Zurga, King of the pearl fishers (baritone)
Nadir, childhood friend of Zuriga and a pearl fisher (tenor)
Leïla, a priestess (soprano)
Nourabad, high priest (bass)

About the Opera
At the age of 25, Bizet (who also composed the popular opera Carmen) wrote The Pearl Fishers. Set in the exotic location of Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka), the opera tells the story of the love triangle between Zurga, Nadir and Leïla. The show also features one of opera's most beloved songs, "Au fond du Temple Saint" (Pearl Fishers Duet).

Les pêcheurs de perles
(The Pearl Fishers)

Opera in three acts
Music by Georges Bizet
Libretto by Michel Carré & Eugène Cormon
World Première: September 30, 1863, Théâtre Lyrique, Paris

Leïla, priestess of Brahma: soprano
Nadir, a fisherman: tenor
Zurga, king of the fishermen: baritone
Nourabad, high priest of Brahma: bass
Fishermen, Priests, Villagers

The time is antiquity and the location is Ceylon.

The Plot

A rocky shore on the coast of Ceylon

Fishermen and villagers are celebrating the pearl fishing season (Sur la grève en feu). When Zurga reminds everyone it is time to select a leader, they choose him. They pledge their obedience to him, offer him complete authority, and agree to accept his law. Nadir, a friend from Zurga's past, arrives. Nadir, is a former fisherman of the village, but had left the community over a rivalry he had with Zurga. Nadir tells his old friend about his new life as a hunter and chides its dangers (Des savanes et des forêts). Zurga asks Nadir to return to the fishing community and he happily agrees.

Zurga and Nadir recall their rivalry over a beautiful priestess named Leïla, and how jealousy turned their friendship into hatred (C’est toi… Au fond du temple saint). They reminisce how both fell in love with her after catching only a glimpse of her beauty. In order to save their friendship, they swore never to see her again. Now reunited, the men vow again never to allow the love of a woman to compromise their friendship.

A dug-out canoe arrives, bringing the high priest Nourabad and an unknown, veiled woman. Zurga explains to Nadir the ancient custom behind her arrival (Une femme inconnue). Once a year, the elder men of the community seek a lovely, wise woman who is worthy of warding off the evil spirits who bring harm to the fishermen. Once found, she is perched as a sentry upon a cliff overlooking the pearl seekers, where her beautiful voice is to keep the evil spirits away. Her face must remain veiled and her identity may not be known to anyone. Also, she must remain chaste.

Nourabad now brings this year’s chosen woman. The villagers welcome her (Sois la bienvenue, ami inconnue) and Zurga confirms her vow to remain veiled and chaste. He explains that if she remains true, she will be rewarded with the finest pearl found; if not, she will perish (Si tu restes fidèle). Even with her identity hidden, there is one in the crowd who recognizes her voice: Nadir. He recognizes her to be Leïla, the priestess from the temple long ago. She recognizes him, too. Immediately, they both realize their fate. Both are destined to break their vows, hers of chastity and his of true friendship to Zurga. In spite of this, Leïla affirms her vow with Zurga and as she does, she looks at Nadir and says “I stay here even if I should die!” The people pray to Brahma that the veiled woman will be successful in warding off the evil spirits. Zurga approaches Nadir with yet another affirmation of their avowed brotherhood before he too leaves.

Nadir realizes his vow to Zurga means nothing in the face of desire. Alone, he confesses that he has long dreamt of Leïla and has followed her back to the village. Now he is positive it is Leïla for he recognizes her by hearing only her voice (Je crois entendre encore). Nadir falls asleep with a dream of Leïla in his mind. Soon, Nourabad and the priests lead Leïla to her perch and order her to sing. Her incantation (O Dieu Brahma) stirs Nadir from his sleep. She unveils, they are united, and her hymn is transformed into a declaration of love.

The ruins of a Hindu temple

The fishermen return safely and Leïla is released from her vigil. Nourabad reminds her that if she remains true to her vow, she can sleep comfortably without fear for her safety. Leïla assures him she has, even in the face of death (Allez-vous donc me laisser seule). She tells him of a childhood experience when she remained true under a similar circumstance: in spite of the threat of death, she kept a vow to hide the whereabouts of a fugitive. She shows Nourabad a necklace and explains that in return for keeping her vow and thus saving his life, the fugitive gave it to her and said “dear child, take this necklace, keep it as a souvenir from me, and I shall remember you forever!” Leïla wears the very necklace even to this day. Nourabad and his guards depart.

Alone, Leïla senses Nadir's presence (Me voilà seule dans la nuit… Comme autrefois) and soon hears his voice in the distance (De mon amie, fleur endormie). When he finally appears, she admits her love (Ton coeur n'a pas compris le mien), but reminds him of her vow. She pleads with him to leave; it is dangerous to have a man in her presence. But the strength of Nadir’s love overwhelms her. She agrees to meet him again and again, and the two rejoice in each other.

Too late, Nourabad and the guards arrive to discover Leïla breaking her vow. Knowing that Nadir too, has broken his vow to Zurga, the villagers call for the lovers to die. Zurga arrives in time to remind the villagers that such decisions are his alone to make. He orders them off and demands them to be merciful. Nourabad insists that the unknown woman’s identity be revealed and tears the veil from her face. Zurga is instantly furious. He immediately recognizes her as the priestess from the temple long ago and realizes that Nadir, his newly rediscovered friend, has already betrayed their renewed vow. Zurga’s mercy changes to rage and he swears revenge.

Scene 1
Zurga’s tent

Zurga regrets what he has done. Nadir has been his friend all his life, and he has now condemned him to death for loving the woman he himself so desperately loves (O Nadir, tendre ami de mon jeune âge). Though Nadir broke a vow to him, Zurga wants to be the nobler man. In his own grief, he dooms himself to die and hopes that the couple will forgive him. Leïla approaches Zurga to beg him to spare Nadir’s life, not knowing that he is planning to do exactly that (Je frémis devant elle!). She pleads that he take her life instead and claims that she sought out Nadir, not the other way around. When Zurga hears this, he realizes how much she loves Nadir; his jealousy is inflamed and he again orders their death. Before she is led off to die, Leïla gives her necklace to a young fisherman, asking him to take it to her mother when she is dead. Zurga snatches it from the fisherman’s hands.

Scene 2
A wild place on the seashore
Anticipating the execution, the villagers perform a frenzied dance (Dès que le soleil). Leïla and Nadir are led to the funeral pyre. The sky is aglow with what appears to be the light of dawn. Zurga runs in with news that rather than a red glow from the morning sun, it is a great fire, fallen from the hands of God, which has engulfed the village. The villagers rush off to save their children and homes. Suspicious of how the fire began, Nourabad stays behind, hiding himself. He hears Zurga telling the lovers that he himself set the fire, not God, with the hope of distracting everyone from the execution so he could set them free. Hearing this, Nourabad rushes off with this news. Zurga produces the necklace and explains that he recognized it, for he is the fugitive whom Leïla had saved long ago. Zurga’s rage has passed and he knows that he could never live with himself if he allowed the woman he loves and the friend of his youth to die. Nourabad returns with several men. They condemn Zurga as a traitor and stab him. Zurga pulls himself toward Nadir and Leïla as they escape and, as he bids farewell to his own dreams of love, he falls dead.

Artistic and Production Staff
Conductor & Chorusmaster – William Boggs
Stage Director – William Florescu
Choreographer – Tim Veach
Set Design – Roberto Oswald
Costume Design – Annibal Lapiz
Lighting Design – Michael Baumgarten
Wig & Make-up Design – Christopher Diamantides & Christine Bowers
Projected Titles written by – Kevin R. Lohr
Dancers – Columbus Dance Theatre
Wigs provided – Cosmic Hair and Makeup
Assistant Conductor – Luis Biava
Assistant Chorusmaster – Jason Hiester

Principal Artists
Diane Alexander – Leïla
Brian Banion – Nourabad
Philip Cutlip – Zurga
Vale Rideout – Nadir
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