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The Sunday Opera: Georges Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers" from Beijing's NCPA

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There are many iconic arias, duets, and choruses that have had lives outside of their respective works, and this week’s Sunday Opera (10/2 3:00 p.m.) will feature one of the best loved duets in opera, “Au fond du temple saint.” The work is, of course, George Bizet’s 1863 “Les pecheurs de perles” (“The Pearl Fishers”) which was ravaged by the critics of the day and never revived during Bizet’s lifetime in a production from China’s National Center for the Performing Arts.

As in many works, there is a love triangle here. In ancient Ceylon, Zurga (Alfredo Daza), the elected leader of a desolate fishing village, is reunited with his long-lost friend Nadir (Francesco Demuro), and the two pledge their allegiance to each other in lieu of their friendship being almost destroyed after both glimpsed and fell in love with a young priestess named Leila (Olga Peretyatko).

The men are pleased that the temptation of Leila has been removed until a boat appears, carrying Leila who is to be the new priestess for the village. Unbeknownst to Zurga, Leila and Nadir have been secretly meeting and are in love. Nadir is captured leaving the temple one night, and the fishermen demand his execution which Zurga is loathe command until the high priest, Nourabad (Paul Gay), unveils Leila. As soon as Zurga sees her and understands what has happened, he then orders the execution of Leila and Nadir.

There is a happy ending of sorts. After wrestling with his emotions, Zurga helps Leila and Nadir escape by starting a fire in the village, and the three take their leave of each other with Nadir and Leila happily disappearing into the night. In some versions of the opera, Nouribad witnesses Zurga freeing the prisoners, denounces him to the fishermen, and they stab him to death, and in some other versions, he is burned to death on a pyre.

The conductor for this performance is Donato Renzetti.

Our afternoon will continue with more music of Bizet. We’ll begin with his one-act opera “Djamileh” which continues with an unrequited love theme. Caliph Haroun (Franco Bonisolli) is loved by the slave Djamileh (Lucia Popp), but his love for her hasn’t awakened yet. Unfortunately, Haroun’s servant, Splendiano (Jean-Philippe Lafont) loves Djamileh as well. Since Haroun decides to rid himself of Djamileh, she tells Splendiano that she will be his if she cannot awaken Haroun’s love by pretending to be a new slave and dancing for him. Happily, this works, and Haroun begins to realize that he loves Djamileh. Splendiano has lost as Haroun finally gives into this love for Djamileh.

For this recording, Lamberto Gardelli conducts the Bavarian Radio Chorus and the Munich Radio Orchestra.

Our final two recordings are much better known. A suite of music from Bizet’s opera “La Jolie Fille de Perth” (“The Fair Maid of Perth”) will be performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Donald Johanson, and we’ll close with a lovely performance of an orchestral version of Jeux d’Enfants (Children’s Games) in an arrangement by Bizet, Roy Douglas, and Hershey Kay performed by the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra lead by Martin West.

Join us for a celebration of Bizet this Sunday afternoon.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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