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The Pearl Fishers first premiered on September 30, 1863 at Theatre-Lyrique, Paris.
Performed in French with English Titles.
The Pearl Fishers is set on the island of Ceylon, which is modern day Sri Lanka, in ancient times.
The fishermen are preparing for the season of diving for pearls. The village has elected Zurga as their King. He welcomes Nadir, a friend whom he has not seen in many years. Long ago, the friends vowed to renounce their love for the same girl in order to keep their friendship. In an exquisite duet, they reminisce about their youth and the beautiful girl they gave up as they renew their pledge of eternal friendship. The priests of the temple of Brahma arrive. They are bringing their new priestess who has been chosen for her purity and virtue. She is veiled, hiding the fact that she is Leila - the very same girl Nadir and Zurga renounced many years ago. Zurga charges the priestess to remain isolated on the cliff, without friends, without lovers, and to sing that the gods may be placated, ensuring the safety of the fishermen. He tells her that if she breaks this bond of faith she will be cursed and put to death. Leila hears Nadir's voice and immediately recognizes it. She still loves him and knowing that he is in the village brings fear to her heart. She composes herself and pledges to fulfill her vows. The villagers raise their voices in a magnificent prayer to Brahma. Nadir has also recognized Leila as being the lost love he has so often dreamed about. Nadir hears Leila singing the evening prayer and he declares his renewed love for her, which she returns. It is late in the evening. The pearl fishermen have safely returned with their catch and the High Priest, Nourabad, thanks Leila for her devotion. She reassures Nourabad of her fidelity by telling him that, when she was a girl, she saved a man who was fleeing brutal pursuers by hiding him in her home. When they came to find him, she bravely told them nothing and the man was saved. To thank her, this unknown fugitive gave her a necklace that she never removed. Nourabad tells her to rest without fear - that the path to the temple is secured - and the temple guards will keep her safe. Left alone, Leila's thoughts turn to Nadir. She knows he is near, hiding in the forest, and waiting to come to her. She sings of her days gone by and of her love.
Nadir, having heard her song, replies from afar with a serenade of love. Nadir climbs over the temple walls to be with Leila. She resists him, saying that death awaits him if he stays. He tells her that his soul has been enslaved by her since the first day he saw her and her resolve weakens. They agree to meet each night in the shadows. Nourabad discovers Nadir leaving the temple and, calling to the people, he declares that the temple has been profaned. The people cry for the lovers to be put to death, and they are about to carry out their threat when Zurga enters. Stopping them, he declares that he alone will judge their fate. Zurga is about to let Leila and Nadir go when Nourabad commands her to lift her veil and reveal her identify to everyone. When she does, Zurga recognizes Leila as the girl he renounced for his friendship with Nadir, and in his jealous fury he condemns them both to death as the people sing for mercy to Brahma.
A storm breaks overhead, a portent of the sea's wrath now that the priestess Leila has been disgraced. Zurga is alone in his tent. He laments that he has condemned his friend, Nadir, to die at dawn. Leila, accompanied by guards, enters. She pleads with Zurga for Nadir's life. Unsuccessful in securing Nadir's release and resigned to her fate, Leila asks him to give her necklace to her mother once she is dead. Zurga recognizes it as the one he gave to the child who saved his life so long ago. To repay this debt, he resolves to help the lovers. To release Nadir and Leila, Zurga sets the village on fire to distract the fishermen and, despite the attempts of Nourabad, the lovers escape. Zurga is left to accept the consequences of his sacrifice as the final curtain falls on Bizet's The Pearl Fishers.
Georges Bizet was born in Paris into a musical family: his father was an amateur singer and his mother was sister to Francois Delsarte, a renowned vocal teacher. His parents fostered his interest in music, and when he had absorbed everything they could teach him, they enrolled him at the Paris Conservatory. Bizet was barely ten years old, the minimum age required for entry into the conservatory. There he studied composition with Fromental Halevy, whose daughter Genevieve he later married. He also developed into a virtuoso pianist, noted for his technical proficiency and full-score reading (playing the piano from an orchestral score).
In 1857 Bizet won the Prix de Rome scholarship for study in Italy; his first opera dates from the same year, the one-act Le Docteur Miracle. Besides composing, he often worked as a rehearsal pianist and orchestrator, which gave him an uncommon familiarity with the works of the Parisian theater. Today Bizet is remembered primarily as an opera composer, although he did not win fame as such during his short lifetime. In his thirty-seven years he wrote six operas that survive in a performable format, as well as nearly thirty unpublished or incomplete works.
The first of Bizet's operas to reach the professional stage was Les pecheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers), which lasted eighteen performances after its premiere at the Theatre Lyrique in 1863. Of the various opera projects on which he worked, two more were staged-La Jolie Fille de Perth in 1867, Djamileh in 1872-without establishing him as a major talent. Though discouraged by the indifference of theater managers and the public, he continued to pursue his great love. With Carmen, at the Opera Comique in 1875, the tide of fortune started to turn, but Bizet died that year, thinking he had written another failure. The work caught on soon afterward and, together with the incidental music for Daudet's play L'Arlesienne, has carried Bizet's reputation.
Bizet seemed to have trouble finding direction as a composer; he frequently began operatic projects but then abandoned them before completion. He often borrowed from these, incorporating their material into later projects. Bizet paid more attention to the meaning and emotional content of the words than to the rhythm and metrical patterns (called "word painting", because the composer uses music to "paint" or illustrate the word's meaning). His choice of subject matter and compositional style presaged the development of verismo opera.
Carmen was drawn from a popular short novel of the same title by Prosper Merimee (1845), inspired in turn by the writing of George Henry Borrow, an Englishman who had lived among the Spanish Gypsies. Bizet's libretto, conventionalized for the conservative, bourgeois audience of the Op�ra Comique, was the work of Ludovic Halevy (a cousin of his wife's) and Henri Meilhac. Since the opera-comique genre called for spoken dialogue, sung recitatives had to be added if the work was ever to be performed at a grand-opera theater. This was done after Bizet's death by his friend Ernest Guiraoud. The work's initially poor reception is attributable to the novelty and daring of presenting "low life" in this genre and allowing the heroine to die instead of contriving the customary happy ending. Gypsies smoking cigarettes onstage was another risque element, as was the "immoral" character of the heroine. Carmen survived to become one of the most frequently performed operas everywhere in the world. Several of its melodies are familiar to thousands who have never seen or heard an opera.
No Language Barrier!
Enjoy the beauty of the original language and understand it all with English translations. The English text is projected on a screen above the stage for each opera. Easy to follow, and easy to understand every twist and turn of the plot!