OPERA NEWS - Les Pêcheurs de Perles
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In Review > North America

Les Pêcheurs de Perles

Tulsa Opera

In Review Tulsa Pearl Fishers lg 117
Shafer and Wang in Tulsa’s Pêcheurs
© Shane Bevel

EVEN IF GEORGES BIZET hadn’t written Carmen, he would be remembered as the composer of what may be the most popular duet ever written for tenor and baritone, created for his first major commission, Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers), when he was just twenty-four. This Pearl Fishers introduced a new regime at Tulsa Opera, now headed up by general director Greg Weber and artistic director Tobias Picker. The opening-night performance, on October 21, was greeted ecstatically by the capacity audience and bodes well for the future of the company, celebrating its fifty-ninth season. The Pearl Fishers was presented in the well-traveled San Diego Opera production, originally done there in 2004, with sets and costumes designed by Zandra Rhodes, who attended the Tulsa performance. The cartoon-like scenery did nothing to establish the mood of this fragile piece, but the brightly colored Bollywood-inspired costumes were an asset. A significant change to the production in Tulsa is that it is now staged and choreographed by British director Denni Sayers, who had some very interesting ideas about the piece. Unfortunately, Sayers communicated her thoughts less clearly on the stage than she did in her essay in the program book. She did, however, bring some authentic Asian elements to the staging, particularly with the help of her associate choreographer Priya Raju and Raju’s Tulsa-based troupe, the Kripalaya Dance Academy.

The opera’s four principal soloists, all making their Tulsa Opera and role debuts on opening night, were well matched both physically and vocally. Soprano Sarah Shafer, as Léïla, exhibited a lovely, limpid soprano with superb intonation and the ability to spin out delicate coloratura filigree that carried in the large hall. Her aria, “Comme autrefois,” was a highlight of the evening. As Nadir, tenor Aaron Blake displayed a handsome voice and exceptional breath control. “Je crois entendre encore” was rapturously sung in what sounded like one long breath, with a real voix mixte, not just a croony falsetto, which so many tenors mistake for French style. Baritone Yunpeng Wang, who completed the love triangle as Zurga,was just about ideal. Wang used his unusually beautiful voice with elegance and refinement. The one slight casting miscalculation was dramatic baritone Aleksey Bogdanov as the high priest Nourabad. While Bogdanov coped with the low tessitura, the role requires a bass. However, Bogdanov is a wonderful performer and almost made up for what he lacked in power at the bottom of his range with a commanding stage presence.

Conductor Emmanuel Plasson’s tempos were well judged, and the orchestra played well for him all evening. Plasson was considerate of his singers, none of whom have huge voices; he kept the volume of the orchestra from overpowering the stage, allowing his cast to sing with greater subtlety. There was also excellent coordination with the many offstage solos and choruses. Perhaps the luxury of having a French conductor conduct a French opera accounts for the very high level of French diction from everyone onstage. Special mention must be given to the chorus, which is an essential element in this piece—here beautifully prepared by Lyndon Meyer—and to the harp soloist, Gaye LeBlanc, whose virtuoso work in the famous duet and throughout the opera was simply wonderful. —Jonathan Pell

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