Opera is definitely a high art – the quality of the performers, musicians and the sets alone is testimony to that. But the wonderful thing about opera, as opposed to other art forms such as painting, is that you don’t need a degree in music to appreciate the beauty of the performance. For even the untrained ear (and eye), Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers is a very enjoyable piece of work – especially under the skilful baton of Richard Divall, and performed by such talented artists. If you have even a passing interest in music and musical performance, this show is one to watch.
Before getting into the performance itself, special attention must be paid to the sets and costumes, courtesy of Daniel Harvey. The costumes are stunningly colourful, giving the characters extra life. Flowing capes, dresses and sarongs were the standard, giving the performance a particularly Southern Asian feel. The incense occasionally burned onstage actually brings the viewers closer to the performance – adding smell to a performance does create a much more immersive experience for the audience after all – without being overpowering.
The main cast and chorus are both stirring and moving in their performances. Phillip Calcagno (Zurga) and Brenton Spiteri (Nadir) tread masterfully along that line between acting and singing, bringing the characters and their struggles very much to life. And their singing was so awe inspiring that goosebumps aren’t out of the question for audience members. Leila’s character, performed by the exquisite Lee Abrahmsen, is very interesting – for most of her first appearances, she wears a veil, which created that little bit of mystery, while still having a voice of the highest calibre. Eddie Mulliaumaseali’i’s performance as Nourabad is also very impressive, dominating the stage both with his physical and vocal presence. And he also wields a massive staff in a very impressive manner.
Now, when most people think opera, they imagine seventy hour long tragedies, all in either French, Italian or German. This performance of The Pearl Fishers was translated into English – something I’m sure some members of the audience appreciated when it came to following the story (I certainly did). Although at times it could be slightly distracting from the music itself, and I found myself focusing on the story instead of the music, it was still probably a good way to get the audience more intricately involved with the story – not a lot of us speak French after all! If you’re new to opera as well, don’t be afraid – there are some parts of the story which warrant a light chuckle (usually the foreshadowing involving “friendship”), and it is not a long and drawn out performance. In fact, it is superbly timed: enough to fully immerse oneself in the show without it being drawn out needlessly.
Catch The Pearl Fishers at The Athenaeum Theatre, 188 Collins Street, Melbourne on the following dates:
Friday 19 September, 7.30 pm (opening night)
Thursday 25 September, 7.30 pm
Saturday 27 September, 2.00 pm
Saturday 27 September, 7.30 pm
Tuesday 30 September, 6.30 pm (anniversary performance)
Or at Alexander Theatre, Monash University, Clayton
Saturday 4 October, 8.00 pm