Les Pecheurs de Perles
Wednesday, June 21, 2017, 6:30 pm
(From the 2015-2016 Season)
Runtime: 2 hours, 13 minutes
Les Pêcheurs de Perles Fun Facts
During the mid-1800s, it was difficult for new composers and new works to be seen at the two major opera houses in Paris, the Paris Opera and the Opéra-Comique. Although Georges Bizet was not well-known at the time, he won the prestigious Prix de Rome at age 25 and was commissioned to write Les Pêcheurs de Perles. The opera was staged at the Théâtre Lyrique, which was eventually known for the premieres of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette and Faust, Wagner’s Rienzi, and Berlioz’s Les Troyens à Carthage.
Les Pêcheurs de Perles had its first Met performance in 1896, when only the first two of the opera’s three acts were performed as part of a matinee showcasing the talents of the French soprano Emma Calvé. The opera was performed in its entirety on opening night of the 1916-17 Met season, with Frieda Hempel as Leïla and Enrico Caruso as Nadir.
The opera, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda and directed by Penny Woolcock, tells the story of a beautiful Hindu priestess pursued by rival pearl divers competing for her hand. Highlights of the score include “Au fond du temple saint,” perhaps the best-known duet for two male voices in the operatic repertory. 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.
Woolcock’s staging of Les Pêcheurs de Perles is a co-production with English National Opera, where it premiered in 2010. It features set design by Dick Bird in his Met debut, costume design by Kevin Pollard, lighting design by Jen Schriever, projection design by 59 Productions, and movement direction by Andrew Dawson.
Cast and Conductor Bios
Diana Damrau has previously sung the role of Leïla at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien. Last season at the Met, she received rave reviews in the title role of Massenet’s Manon. In earlier Met seasons, the German soprano sang her first-ever performances of Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata and Amina in Bellini’s La Sonnambula to great acclaim. In 2005, she made her Met debut as Zerbinetta in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, and since then, she has sung over 100 performances with the company including Rosina in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Pamina and the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, the Countess Adèle in the Met premiere of Rossini’s Le Comte Ory, the title role in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Adina in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, and Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto. Later this season, she will star as the title character in Manon at the Vienna State Opera; the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor at the Teatro Regio Torino and Royal Opera, Covent Garden; Elvira in Bellini’s I Puritani at the Teatro Real de Madrid; and Violetta in La Traviata at the Orange Festival.
This season marks Matthew Polenzani’s role debut as Nadir. He has sung over 315 performances with the Met since his company debut in 1997 as Boyar Kruschev in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. Other credits with the company include Ferrando in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the title character in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’ Hoffmann, Nemorino in L’Elisir d’Amore, Leicester in the Met premiere of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, and the Duke in Rigoletto. Later this season, he will star in the title role of the Met premiere of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, followed by performances as Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Bohème at the Gran Teatre del Liceu.
Mariusz Kwiecien has previously sung the role of Zurga at the Teatro Real in Madrid. He made his Met debut in 1999 as Kuligin in Janáček’s Káťa Kabanová, and since then, he has sung over 180 performances with the company. His other roles at the Met include the Count in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and Rodolfo in La Bohème last season, Riccardo Forth in Bellini’s I Puritani, Onegin in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Belcore in L’Elisir d’Amore, and the title role of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. After starring as the Duke of Nottingham opposite Polenzani in the company’s premiere of Roberto Devereux, he will sing Posa in Verdi’s Don Carlo at the San Francisco Opera later this season.
Nicolas Testé has previously sung Nourabad in Valencia and at the Vienna State Opera. Last season, he sang opposite Damrau as Comte des Grieux in Manon, and prior to the performance, he made his Met debut in La Bohème as Colline. His other performances this season include Raimondo in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Teatro Regio Torino, and Théâtre des Champs-Elysées; Giorgio in I Puritani at the Teatro Real in Madrid; and Doctor Grenvil in La Traviata at the Orange Festival.
Gianandrea Noseda is the Music Director of the Teatro Regio Torino, Laureate Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Principal Conductor of the Orquestra de Cadaqués, and Artistic Director of Italy’s Stresa Festival. He made his Met debut conducting Prokofiev’s War and Peace in 2002 and has conducted eight other operas with the company since, which include Verdi operas such as Un Ballo in Maschera, Il Trovatore, La Traviata, and Macbeth; Lucia di Lammermoor; Borodin’s Prince Igor; and Giordano’s Andrea Chénier. Later this year, he will conduct Damrau and Testè in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and Teatro Regio Torino, Casella’s La Donna Serpente at Teatro Regio Torino, and Il Trovatore at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden.
Antony Walker made his Met debut conducting Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice in 2011. In addition to being the Music Director of the Pittsburgh Opera, he is the Artistic Director of the Washington Concert Opera and the Co-Artistic Director of Pinchgut Opera in Australia. He has conducted over 200 operas and symphonic and chamber works around the world with opera houses such as the Rome Opera, English National Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Canadian Opera Company, and Santa Fe Opera. He is conducting performances of The Barber of Seville and then National Council Finals at the Met later this season.
A village of pearl divers swears loyalty to Zurga,a local leader. The fisherman Nadir returns after a year away. He and Zurga recall how their competing love for a priestess nearly destroyed their friendship. Nadir swears that he has stayed away from her. Nourabad, the High Priest, brings a priestess to the village. Nadir realizes that she is Leïla, the priestess he still loves. Zurga imposes an oath of obedience upon her. Nadir reveals that, having met Leïla illicitly, he has followed her to the village. As she begins to pray, he calls out to her, and she answers his love.
Nourabad tells Leïla that she can now sleep but stresses the importance of her vow. She describes how she once protected a fugitive who gave her a necklace as thanks. Leïla dreams of Nadir. He arrives, but as a storm breaks out, Nourabad discovers the couple and denounces them. Zurga protects Nadir when the villagers demand his death, but when Zurga recognizes Leïla, he calls for their execution.
Zurga’s anger has passed, and he reflects on Nadir’s fate. Leïla intercedes for Nadir, and Zurga relents. But when he see how much Leïla loves Nadir, he commands Nourabad to take her to be sacrificed. Leïla asks one of the divers to bring her necklace to her mother. Zurga seizes it with a cry. The people prepare for the ritual deaths. Zurga stops them because the village is on fire, and they flee. Zurga releases Nadir and Leïla, explaining that he started the fire to rescue them. He was the fugitive whom Leïla once saved. The lovers escape, and Zurga is left behind.