Baltimore Opera takes full advantage of Bizet's limited 'The Pearl Fishers' Opera review: The composer's first full opera is no 'Carmen,' but the local company makes the most of its gorgeous melodies.

March 11, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

"The Pearl Fishers," the 24-year-old Bizet's first full-length opera, is not for all markets. Even by operatic standards, the libretto is little short of a disaster -- it's palm tree Orientalism at its worst -- and the music, while beautiful, doesn't have the dramatic cogency the composer was to achieve in "Carmen."

Nonetheless, "The Pearl Fishers" can cast a spell -- particularly in as lovely a production as the one the Baltimore Opera Company unveiled Saturday night at the Lyric Opera House. This is a piece that's filled with gorgeous melodies, and there is erotic magic in the tenor's first-act duet with Zurga (the baritone) that is felt only a little less powerfully in his duets with Leila (the soprano) and in his arias.

Unfortunately, John Aler, who sang the all-important (and fiendishly high-lying) tenor role of Nadir, was not in the best of voice on Saturday. Though his voice is on the small side, Aler is a deservedly celebrated Nadir (his EMI recording of a few years back, with Barbara Hendricks as Leila, is excellent). On this occasion, however, he seemed to have difficulty staying on pitch and in singing softly. But he seemed to get stronger throughout the evening, which presages well for his resumption of the part on Wednesday.

And he was able to call upon his considerable experience and acting skills to compensate for whatever indispositions he was suffering.

The rest of the cast was in splendid voice. The Canadian soprano Lyne Fortin made a memorable Leila. She had charm, her large voice was limpid and fresh-sounding, her top notes floated with security and her trill at the end of Act I was beautifully sustained. Gaetan Lapierre was just as impressive as Zurga. His sound was firm and attractive. His narrative of the approach of Leila was imaginative, his big aria was touching and he fueled the dramatic fires in Act III with real frenzy.

George Hogan sang the role of Nourabad, the high priest, impressively.

It goes almost without saying that the production by the Argentine team of Roberto Oswald (staging, lighting and sets and lights) and Anibal Lapiz (costumes) was beautiful. Give these guys a scrim, some colored lights, some cloth and enough plaster of Paris sand they'll give you a believable beach in Ceylon, replete with a Hindu temple and statues of the gods, Brahma and Siva. The chorus and orchestra of the Baltimore Opera were in fine form and conductor Pierre Hetu paced and shaped Bizet's music intelligently.

Performances of "The Pearl Fishers" continue March 13, Marh 15, March 16 (with Hong-Shen Li in the role of Nadir) and March 17.

Pub Date: 3/11/96

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