Review: The Pearl Fishers (Lyric Opera)

| November 23, 2017

Marina Rebeka and Mariusz Kwiecień star as Leila and Zurga in The Pearl Fishers, Lyric Opera            

The Pearl Fishers
Music by Georges Bizet
Libretto: Michel Carré, Eugène Cormon
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map)
thru Dec 10  |  tix: $20 & up  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets    


Lush, visually-stunning Bizet opus great entry into world of opera


Marina Rebeka stars as Leila in The Pearl Fishers, Lyric Opera Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago presents
The Pearl Fishers

Review by Lauren Whalen

Love, friendship, betrayal and the hunt for treasure: The Pearl Fishers has it all. Composed by Georges Bizet, twelve years before he created Carmen, The Pearl Fishers is vibrant and full of drama, and contains a superb tenor-baritone duet. Lyric Opera first performed the opera in 1966, and its revived production features vivid production values, a brilliant principal cast and beautiful choreography executed by a gifted cadre of dancers. The Pearl Fishers is thoroughly enjoyable for opera fans and newbies alike, and is well worth catching, with a limited number of performances at a range of ticket prices starting atMariusz Kwiecień, Marina Rebeka and Matthew Polenzani star as Zurga, Leila and Nadir in The Pearl Fishers $20.

Set in 19th century Ceylon, The Pearl Fishers opens with Zurga (Mariusz Kwiecień), reminding his fellow citizens that it’s time to select a new king. Shortly after Zurga is chosen, his best friend Nadir (Matthew Polenzani) returns after years of adventuring. Though the atmosphere is tense at first, Zurga and Nadir quickly bond again, recalling their vision of a beautiful woman and their vow to forget her and preserve their friendship. Meanwhile, Ceylon prepares for the annual arrival of a veiled virgin who will pray for the pearl fishers for one day and one night. If she remains a virgin and doesn’t reveal her face, the hunters will find the most beautiful pearl imaginable. If she fails at either, she will die. This year’s candidate is the beautiful Leïla (Marina Rebeka). While her intentions are pure and strong, her resolve quickly dissipates when Nadir recognizes her as the long-lost mysterious woman, and the two fall in love.

Bizet’s score is emotionally haunting, squeezing every drop of high drama with occasional quiet, reflective moments. While the story has the trappings of a traditional opera, the setting is lush, colorful and nontraditional. Zandra Rhodes’ set and costume design is positively breathtaking, balancing cool and warm color palettes and incorporating exquisite detail. The sets are intricately painted, the garb of every performer from principal singer to chorus member bright and dazzling. Visually, The Pearl Fishers is a stunner, a personification of the dramatic score – one could have a tremendous experience without even hearing the music.

Andrea Silvestrelli stars as Nourabad in The Pearl Fishers, Lyric OperaMariusz Kwiecień stars as Zurga (photo Andrew Cioffi) Matthew Polenzani stars as Nadir in The Pearl Fishers, Lyric OperaMatthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecień star as Nadir and Zurga in Pearl Fishers, Lyric Opera Marina Rebeka and Mariusz Kwiecień star as Leila and Zurga in The Pearl Fishers, Lyric Opera2 Mariusz Kwiecień stars as Zurga in The Pearl Fishers at Lyric OperaMatthew Polenzani and Marina Rebeka star as Nadir and Leila in The Pearl Fishers, Lyric OperaMatthew Polenzani, Marina Rebeka and Mariusz Kwiecień star as Nadir, Leila and Zurga in Pearl Fishers

Choreographer John Malashock, assisted by Michael Mizerany, maximizes the opera’s opportunities for dance. Playing guards, handmaidens and even fire, the dancers’ physical acumen adds another lovely layer to the Bizet score. Polenzani’s Nadir is both angsty and noble, and his notes letter-perfect. As Zurga, Kwiecień effortlessly blends genuine empathy and toxic masculinity. Rebeka brings a wholesome darkness to the priestess Leïla, her soprano both elegant and magnificent.

Everyone loves a good, tragic love story, and The Pearl Fishers may be new to this generation of opera-goers. Its two-and-a-half-hour running time is shorter than that of the average opera, making it a good choice for those curious about the genre. Any journey into the Civic Opera House is a treat, and The Pearl Fishers is a stirring way to spend an afternoon or evening. A solid choice for a holiday field trip or an escape from the relatives, The Pearl Fishers has a limited run at Lyric, and its high entertainment value makes it worth the audience’s while.

Rating: ★★★½

The Pearl Fishers continues through December 10th at Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map).  Tickets start at $20, and are available by phone (312-827-5600) or online through their website  (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 2 hours 25 minutes, includes an intermission)


The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera Chicago (Andrew Cioffi)The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera Chicago (photo Andrew Cioffi)

Photos by Andrew Cioffi, Todd Rosenberg 




Mariusz Kwiecień (Zurga), Matthew Polenzani (Nadir), Andrea Silvestrelli (Nourabad), Marina Rebeka (Leïla)


Jacob Ashley, Nikolas Chen, Sam Crouch, Marian Faustino, Tom Mattingly, Ginny Ngo, Jimi Loc Nguyen, Michelle Reid, Todd Rhoades, Jacqueline Stewart, Nicholas Strasburg, Jessica Wolfrum

behind the scenes

Sir Andrew Davis (conductor), Andrew Sinclair (director), Zandra Rhodes (set and costume design), Ron Vodicka (lighting design), Michael Black (chorus master), John Malashock (choreography), Michael Mizerany (assistant choreographer), August Tye (ballet mistress), Sarah Hatten (wigmaster and makeup design), Jordan Braun (assistant director), Rachel C. Henneberry (stage manager), Francesco Milioto (stage band conductor), Jerad Mosbey and Madeline Slettedahl (musical preparation), Carol Borah Kelly (projected English supertitles), Andrew Cioffi, Todd Rosenberg (photos)

Lyric Opera's "The Pearl Fishers" by Georges Bizet, directed by Andrew Sinclair. (photo credit: Todd Rosenberg) Mariusz Kwiecień stars as Zurga in The Pearl Fishers, Lyric Opera 2Andrea Silvestrelli and Marina Rebeka star as Nourabad and Leila in The Pearl Fishers, Lyric OperaMarina Rebeka and Mariusz Kwiecień star as Leila and Zurga


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: 2017 Reviews, Civic Opera House, Lauren Whalen, Lyric Opera, Opera, Video, YouTube

Comments (0)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

There are no comments yet. Why not be the first to speak your mind.

Comments are closed.