When I sat with Sam Robert-Smith (lead actor & opera singer, playing Zurga), he informed me that there were various songs within Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers”, that were in his words “extremely emotional”. In one scene between Zurga and love interest Leila (played by Emma Matthews), he mentioned it was so easy to get caught up in emotions, it ran the risk of impinging on their singing. As such, as actors they were forced to restrain themselves from getting caught up in additional emotions portrayed in songs, to focus on their core performance.
We as the audience, however, do not have that responsibility. We are given full reign to enjoy every emotional facet of this production, unfettered. Goodness, there is a lot of emotion running through the veins of this production.
Firstly, as the curtains went up the audible “ooh, ahh” of the audience was loudly heard. Upon acknowledging the universal appreciation felt in the room, the audience broke into an applause. Make no mistake, the set designers (under Robert Kemp) have done a brilliant job. To marvel at the set alone is a good enough reason to attend this production. You really do feel as though you’re amongst the Ceylon ruins or Ceylon seas.
From this, I will say the singing as imagined, is riveting and full of soul. While the opera is sung in French, the English subtitles are clear and concise enough on screens either side of the stage. Just a heads up, ideally don’t purchase tickets for seating on the upper level unless you plan on a strain whilst reading those screens.
The storyline is relatively simplistic – a tangled love triangle involving friendship, jealousy, lust and forbidden love. However, it’s richly complimented by solid [sung] dialogue, and acting that really emphasises each of those listed elements. It’s important because whilst the singing is in French, the audience rarely feels lost from the story.
When Zurga and Nadir (played by Johnathan Abernerthy) celebrate their friendship, you feel those bonds, you feel that brotherhood. When Zurga feels betrayed, you feel his anger, you feel his hurt, and you jump in your seat when he pounds the desk under his hands. When Leila and Nadir reunite their forbidden love, you feel tingling inside. When Zurga professes his unrequited love for Lelia you feel her surprise and shock.
The core ingredients of a magical set, the masterpiece that is WASO (West Australian Symphony Orchestra), solid acting performances with rich talented voices, enrich this production with heart, soul and a host of emotions to revel in.
It’s a performance you’re lucky to watch and leaves you feeling warm inside.
Directed by Michael Gow, The Pearl Fishers will be performed at His Majesty’s Theatre on October 25, 27, 29 & November 1, 3, 5. For further information and Tickets visit the West Australian Opera website.