This website has reviewed performances in the United States of two operas from, respectively, France’s Second Empire and Third Republic – Bizet’s “Les Pecheurs de Perles” and Saint-Saens’ “Samson et Dalila”. Their stories incorporate exotic and fantastic themes; the music that Bizet and Saint-Saens composed for these operas are as immersed in exoticism as the storylines themselves.
With this post, we will begin to highlight performances of this lavish style of French operas – by Bizet, Delibes, Massenet and Saint-Saens – that we plan to attend and review.
Since we know of new productions of such works that should be announced before too long, we will update this page for 2008-09 within a few weeks.
Lakme (Delibes), Tulsa Opera, February 23, 29, March 2
Tulsa is one my favorite mid-Continent cities, but I have never attended an opera there. However, I could not resist witnessing the return to her home state of Muskogee’s Sarah Coburn for her scheduled performances of Lakme’s coloratura fireworks. (Coburn is not the only diva who hails from the Sooner State. A few months ago, I was driving on Leona Mitchell Way in Enid, named after the famous soprano.)
Now, from the distance of time, we can begin to appreciate this French view of the cultural interaction (and illicit love entanglements) of an English Army officer and a Hindu cult’s priestess in Britain’s Raj. For those familiar only with the opera’s highlights, as enchanting as is the music of the Bell Song and the duet – Viens, Mallika (which one can hear in the commercials for Ghirardelli Chocolates and NBC TV’s “Las Vegas”) – between Lakme (Coburn) and Mallika (Priti Gandhi), there is much more beautiful music than just these familiar hits.
[Below: a promotional poster for Lakme; resized image, courtesy of the Tulsa Opera.]
Lakme’s love interest, Gerald (Eric Margiore), is one of the plum leggiero tenor roles in the French repertoire, even if the character’s actions make Pinkerton in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” seem a model of political correctness in his female relationships. Marcus DeLoach is Lakme’s father, Nilakantha. Kyle Pfortmiller is Gerald’s often dismayed comrade in arms, Frederic.
For the performance review, see: Sarah Coburn’s Ravishing Tulsa Opera Lakme – February 29, 2008
The Pearl Fishers – Les Pecheurs de Perles (Bizet), San Diego Opera, May 3, 6, 9, 11 (m) This is an (augmented) repeat from my “Best Bet Revivals” list for 2007-08:
San Diego Opera tickets can be notoriously hard to secure, when the word gets out that an upcoming production is expected to be a hit. This production, created in 2004 by pop artist Zandra Rhodes, sold out months in advance. On its tour to other U. S. cities, including a very successful mounting at the San Francisco Opera, it charmed audiences everywhere. Returning to the San Diego Civic Theatre four seasons later, it highlights Charles Castronovo, who was memorable as Nadir in San Francisco, with Ekaterina Siurina (Leila) and Malcolm MacKenzie (Zurga) completing the triangle. Jose Gallisa reprises Nourabad, and Karen Keltner conducts.
[Below: A promotional poster featuring Charles Castronovo as Nadir; resized image, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]
Although one expects ticket sales to be brisk for “The Pearl Fishers” anyway, San Diego Opera, having secured a tenor with one of the best physiques among operatic males, has blazoned his picture in his bare-chested Nadir costume on its website (www.sdopera.com), and promoted the human interest of Castronovo’s real-life romance and marriage to his Leila (Siurina). They fell in love with each other while performing Nemorino and Adina in Donizetti’s “Elixir of Love”! As further inducement, all are invited to imbibe as a musical elixir, through San Diego Opera’s website, the intoxicating music of Nadir’s famous duet with Zurga, “Au fond du temple sainte”. Talk about savvy marketing!
If one is able to secure tickets to this delight, regard it as more than the “guilty pleasure” that some characterize this 1863 work to be. The San Diego production benefits from some of the excellent musicological scholarship that Bizet’s operas are experiencing in recent years. This performance will be much closer to what Bizet intended than traditional 20th century performances, and proves revelatory as an early flash of genius from one of the great composers who died tragically young. For the real guilty pleasure, you will be in San Diego in early May.
For more on Bizet, the musicological scholarship on “Pecheurs de Perles” and Zandra Rhodes (and the connection between this opera and the event that created Mexico’s Cinco de Mayo holiday), see: A new look for Bizet’s “Pearl Fishers”: Zandra Rhodes in San Diego & S.F.
For the subsequent performance review, see: Castronovo, Siurina Lead Magical San Diego Opera “Pearl Fishers” – May 9, 2008
William’s note to our readers: When I am off to Tulsa at the end of February 2008, my website colleague Tom will be in Santa Barbara for its opera season. Expect a Tom’s Tips for Santa Barbara as the next website post, followed by my Donizetti Quest review of San Diego Opera’s “Mary Queen of Scots (Maria Stuarda)” in mid-February. (See my 2008-09 Donizetti Quest schedule posted in the January 2008 website archives.)
Tom’s visit to the Central Coast will include a Donizetti Quest of his own for Santa Barbara’s Love Elixir festivities. Later, we will have some of the still unposted reviews from San Francisco’s Fall 2007 season, including some for which cinemacasts are scheduled.