January 8, 12, 16, 20, 23, 2016
Don’t miss the production the New York Times hails as “the sleeper hit of the Metropolitan Opera season… a dream cast… Sensitive and insightful production… Theatrical magic… Diana Damrau brings brilliant coloratura agility, radiant sound and charisma galore to the role of Leila. Mariusz Kwiecien is an ideal Zurga… Matthew Polenzani sang his haunting aria of remembrance with wonderful lyrical tenderness – if you think it is impossible for a tenor to cap phrases…with melting, pianissimo high notes, report to the Met to hear how this is done superlatively… If only [Bizet] could have seen this production.”
Bizet’s gorgeous opera of lust and longing set in the Far East returns to the Met stage for the first time in 100 years. Soprano Diana Damrau stars as Leïla, the beautiful Hindu priestess pursued by rival pearl divers competing for her hand. Her suitors are tenor Matthew Polenzani and baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, who sing the lilting duet “Au fond du temple saint,” which opera fans know and adore. Director Penny Woolcock explores the timeless themes of pure love, betrayal, and vengeance in a production that vividly creates an undersea world on the stage of the Met. Conductor Gianandrea Noseda brings his romantic flair to the lush score from the composer of Carmen.
Production a gift of the Gramma Fisher Foundation, Marshalltown, Iowa
Additional funding from The Annenberg Foundation; Mr. William R. Miller, in memory of Irene D. Miller; and American Express
World premiere: Théâtre Lyrique, Paris, 1863. Few operas can match the sheer lyric beauty of Bizet’s youthful The Pearl Fishers. Critics at the time were not in favor of it but the audience was swept up in the ravishing score tinged with the allure of a mythical South Asian setting. The drama itself remains within the conventional standards of the day, with a love triangle complicated by the true friendship of the two men involved in it. Although not performed frequently, the opera successfully stands on its own when appreciated for its unique atmosphere, rather than compared to the composer’s later masterpiece, Carmen, or held up to modern notions of dramatic plausibility.
No, “Pearl Fishers” is certainly NOT by the composer of “Carmen”. Gianandrea Noseda spoke the truth when he said in his interview with Patricia Racette, “When the Met hasn’t produced an opera in 100 years, one has to wonder if there was a good reason.”
But then he continues with scripted PR, where he goes on about how when he looked through the score, “I found so many musical gems.” No surprise: Noseda is not going to turn down the money and publicity of a new Met production merely because, as a superb musician, he KNOWS that, aside from the couple of deservedly famous gems, the rest of the score is almost never more than “workmanlike”, and no more.
“Carmen” is where Bizet, after much experience, “catches fire”, and turns out a masterpiece, a work of true genius. Not even Enrico Caruso in 1916 could save the mostly mediocre “Pearl Fishers”.
One of the great tragedies in the history of opera is that Bizet died at age 37, shortly after the initial production of “Carmen”. Had he lived, he might have become another Verdi.
But the fact is, Bizet was only 25 when he composed this opera, to a ridiculous libretto which an impresario wanted to produce. At this young age, Bizet demonstrates full technical command, especially of orchestration. But the truth is that except for the tenor/baritone duet, and the tenor aria, both of which are sublime, the rest of the music is merely “competent”. This opera is supposed to be an example of then-fashionable “exoticism”, yet Bizet mostly seesaws between dominant and tonic. Leila’s music is far less evocative and compelling than that of even Micaela, the nice, proper country girl in “Carmen”. Even Delibes’ Lakme is more alluringly “exotic”. And Leila shrivels in comparison to Salome, Turandot— or Carmen.
But opera producers and “Arts Administrators” are desperate for “something new” in our era of an “opera industry” where the same 50 past operatic masterpieces are constantly recycled like hamsters on a circular treadmill.These non-musicians, with bloated egos but no talent, who desperately want to have “something new” to attract the public. So they disguise a mediocre score with a gorgeous VISUAL production, relying on the likelihood that they can distract a naive public by attempting to disguise an opera as a MOVIE, which is cynical, phony baloney.
Why did the Met start a Young Artists Program for singers after World War Two (and which, of course, every other opera company immediately imitated)? Because prior to World Wars One and Two, singers simply osmosed opera as A LIVING TRADITION. But the mega-destructive Wars , in which roughly 100,000,000 people died (including both military deaths and the mass murder of entire civilian populations by both Hitler and Stalin) had Europe struggling for SURVIVAL. Nobody could focus on the necessary training of young singers and composers.
So after World War Two, the Met HAD TO institute a school for singers, if it expected to continue to produce opera. Fine.
But now comes the $10,000,000-dollar question: why, under these radically new circumstances, did the Met not ALSO institute a Young Composers Program, to systematically TRAIN young Conservatory composition graduates in the operatic tradition, so that these inexperienced young composers would have a solid foundation on which to base their subsequent operatic composition efforts. (CERTAINLY such a program would have been FAR less expensive than Peter Gelb’s delusional new $45,000,000 “Ring”, which audiences, critics and singers loathe. Certainly tearing up “Rigoletto” by the roots and plunking it down in a 1960’s Las Vegas gambling joint was cynical, silly—-and desperate. Certainly putting the tender and realistic “Traviata” in a crudely sexed-up wallow of red and black abstraction is desperate (and ignorant).
CONCLUSION: the talentless “Arts Administrators” with their bloated egos want to have “creative input” into any new opera. So most of the new “operas” are commissioned from young, inexperienced composers are only too happy for the commission, but who have NO KNOWLEDGE of operatic tradition. So after the highly hyped premiere, their scores sink back into the anonymity they deserve— and the opera companies don’t care, because they’ve gotten their heroin fix of massive publicity, which is the only reason they produced a new “opera” in the first place.
The only alternative to this deluge of cynicism is to institute Young Composers Programs at the Met and other major opera companies. Conservatory graduates in Composition would compete for a place in these programs. Then they would intensively STUDY the scores of Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, Berlioz, Bizet, Debussy, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Britten to LEARN how to structure an opera. They would sit in on singers’ coaching sessions in order to LEARN what operatic voices can and cannot do. They would attend rehearsals of established repertory operas, and then be tested on their analysis of how and why a scene or an act WORKS musico-dramatically.
After two monstrous World Wars destroyed the natural continuity of operatic traditions, this kind of patient, but AUTHENTIC WORK is the only way that the tradition can be renewed.
The current practice in the opera production world is utterly cynical, intended to keep going the careers of “big-name” conductors (middlemen, who are superb musicians and organizers, but who CREATE nothing) and useless “arts administrators” with a fetish for “workshopping” new operas.
Finally, just to cite the Italian opera tradition: Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and PUccini DID NOT re-invent the wheel. Every one of them BUILT on existing tradition, gradually improving and innovating in an evolutionary progression. “Rigoletto” premiered in 1851, and is still going strong. That’s because Verdi KNEW WHAT HE WAS DOING TECHNICALLY.