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Rare Pearl in San Diego

San Diego
San Diego Opera
05/03/2008 -  & May 6, 9, 11, 2008
Georges Bizet: Les Pêcheurs de perles
Ekaterina Siurina (Leïla), Charles Castronovo (Nadir), Malcolm MacKenzie (Zurga), José Gallisa (Nourabad)
San Diego Opera Chorus, Dorothy Randall (Acting Chorus Master), Christopher Cano (Principal Pianist), San Diego Symphony Orchestra, Karen Keltner (Conductor)
Andrew Sinclair (Director), Zandra Rhodes (Set and Costume Designer), John Malashock (Choreographer), Ron Vodicka (Lighting Designer), Steven W. Bryant (Wig and Makeup Designer), Carol Palca (Supertitles), Karen Keltner (Diction Coach)

It is hard to imagine today’s teenagers composing masterful operas as was the case in the late 19th Century even with a shortened life span. Such was the case with the creativity stemming from French composer Georges Bizet. Astonishingly enough, Bizet had already written six operas prior to the mystical score of Les Pêcheurs de perles which premiered in 1863 when he was only 24!

Despite holding a place in the standard repertoire, Les Pêcheurs de perles is still infrequently performed in comparison to the traditional “war horses”. San Diego Opera has proudly included this opera in three of its past fifteen seasons, and remains a favorite amongst its patrons. The directorship under Andrew Sinclair creates a nicely modified version of the 2004 production co-owned with Michigan Opera Theatre while retaining the creative visions of Zandra Rhodes who emblazes the stage with her extravagant colorful sets and costumes to create a rapturous spectacle.

Les Pêcheurs de perles is a lyrical score, easy on the ear, allowing the principals found within the “Love Triangle” a chance to demonstrate their virtuosities through each of their own distinctive arias. New to San Diego Opera, Ekaterina Siurina’s Leïla is captivating with her well controlled and executed voice that consistently carries through the entire performance despite the challenging degrees of singing. Real life husband Charles Castronovo plays Leïla’s lover, Nadir. His acting and talent are believable, and he shines especially during his solo aria, “Je crois entendre encore” and in the Zurga/Nadir duet, “Au fond du temple saint”.

Malcolm MacKenzie’s rendition of Zurga remains capricious in nature when first washed out by the orchestra and then pleasantly shocks the audience with the most audible and beautiful tone in his Act III solo aria, “L’orage s’est calmé”. Lacking a major singing role, Nourabad remains an imposing figure as Brahmin priest and Leïla’s minder interpreted by Brazilian bass José Gallisa that becomes overtly exaggerated and almost ridiculously comical.

This year Mr. Sinclair decides to infuse more dancing and on stage action through John Malashock’s choreography. In the opera, we find Bizet ending Act I in anti-climactic fashion. This is, however, compensated by the powerful ending of Act II that is accentuated by Mr. Malashock’s skillful capture and punishment of Leïla and Nadir with continual action and movement.

Les Pêcheurs de perles does not come around often enough. This is a wonderful production despite episodic weak moments. We are fortunate to have this treasured Georges Bizet work in the hands of San Diego Opera once again. If one has never seen Les Pêcheurs de perles, make plans to see the musical marvels of a young French twenty-four year old come to life on stage.

Christie Grimstad



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