Results 1 to 15 of 15

Thread: Opera in-Depth: Les pêcheurs de perles

    Bookmark and Share
  1. #1

    Opera in-Depth: Les pêcheurs de perles

    We have already tackled Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles at Opera Lively, in an article published as part of the "Beyond the Standard Repertoire" thread:

    Now, we will basically complete the information provided, including some additional details.

    Many people will be aware of this opera mainly for three wonderful numbers, that we will present in several performances since the early 20th century to our days. Those numbers are:

    1.- Duet between Nadir and Zurga: 'Au fond du temple saint'.

    A recent version with Roberto Alagna and Bryn Terfel:

    2.- Nadir's aria: 'À cette voix...Je crois entendre encore'

    A legendary performance of Alfredo Kraus:

    [Video here before was removed from YouTube]

    3.- Leila's aria: 'Me voilà seule dans la nuit...Comme autrefois'

    Nice and precise rendition from French soprano Andrée Esposito:

    So stay tuned, we will be dealing with "The Pearl Fishers" from now to the end of the year.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); January 5th, 2018 at 03:50 AM.

  2. #2
    The libretto, in French and English versions:

  3. #3
    Les Pêcheurs de Perles

    Opera in Three Acts

    Libretto by Eugéne Cormon & Michel Carré

    Music by George Bizet


    Leïla, priestress of Brahma: Soprano
    Nadir, a fisherman: Tenor
    Zurga, chief of the fishermen: Baritone
    Nourabad: priest of Brahma: Bass

    Fishermen, Indian, Brahma priests

    Ceylon, in ancient times


    2 flutes, 1 piccolo
    2 oboes, 1 English horn
    2 clarinets
    2 bassoons

    4 horns
    2 trumpets
    3 trombones

    2 kettledrums
    Drum, bass drum, cymbals, tambourine, triangle, tom-tom

    2 Harps


    On stage: 2 flutes, tambourine, harp
    Last edited by Schigolch; December 3rd, 2012 at 11:51 AM.

  4. #4
    Granted, the libretto was not the strongest part about Les pêcheurs de perles. And Bizet had only three months to wrote the score. However, he was able to go into the soul of the characters, beyond the rather feeble story and pretty average wording.

    Bizet, as other composers at that time, was "accused" of Wagnerism. While it's true than he was fond of Tannhäuser, he was able to use effectively the orchestra to provide some depth to the drama and even present some similar vocal lines here and there, the true musical reference is not Wagner, but Berlioz or, if we want to go the German way, Weber.

    Leïla is a lyrical soprano, with a pure and limpid vocality. Nadir, a lyrical tenor, is more about being expressive than any heroics. Zurga is rather high-pitched for a baritone, same as Nourabad for a bass. All four have their elements of difficulty, but they are not among Opera's hardest roles.

  5. #5
    Banned Top Contributor Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Post Thanks / Like
    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
    the true musical reference is not Wagner, but Berlioz or, if we want to go the German way, Weber.
    And not his teacher, Gounod? It's Carmen that aroused the accussation about Bizet stealing from him, but surely he was influenced by him from the beginnings (especially considering that his early symphony was, if I remember well, unargueable rip-off from Gound, to some extent).

  6. #6
    Yes, Gounod's influence is there, too.

  7. #7
    The duet between Zurga and Nadir, 'Au fond du temple saint', is one of the highlights of the opera. It's divided in two parts: the first, in E-flat major, is devoted to the "goddess" from Candi. The second, in F major, is a hymn to friendship. They are linked by an energy recitative. More often than not, the second part, 'Amitié sante', is cut and replaced by a reprise of the "goddess" lines. That was not written by Bizet, but is common practice since the 19th century.

    With great skill Bizet conjures a mysterious atmosphere using muted strings and singing in perfect fourths: 'Au fond du temple saint'. The action, that was frantic up to this point, suddenly freezes, it seems we are in a different, quieter world. Enter the flute and, for the first time in the opera, the harp. When the face of Leïla is revealed, the woodwind accompany the singers. A crescendo drives us into the recitative and, after the promise 'Jurons de rester amis', we got either the motif of the "goddess" again, with the same orchestration, or the second stanza.

    Au fond du temple saint
    Paré de fleurs et d'or,
    Une femme apparaît!
    Je crois la voir encore!

    Une femme apparaît!
    Je crois la voir encore!

    La foule prosternée
    La regarde, etonnée,
    Et murmure tous bas:
    Voyez, c'est la déesse!
    Qui dans l'ombre se dresse
    Et vers nous tend les bras!

    Son voile se soulève!
    Ô vision! ô rêve!
    La foule est à genoux!

    Oui, c'est elle!
    C'est la déesse plus charmante et plus belle!
    Oui, c'est elle!
    C'est la déesse qui descend parmi nous!
    Son voile se soulève et la foule est à genoux!

    Mais à travers la foule
    Elle s'ouvre un passage!

    Son long voile déjà
    Nous cache son visage!

    Mon regard, hélas!
    La cherche en vain!

    Elle fuit!

    Elle fuit!
    Mais dans mon âme soudain
    Quelle étrange ardeur s'allume!

    Quel feu nouveau me consume!

    Ta main repousse ma main!

    Ta main repousse ma main!

    De nos cœurs l'amour s'empare
    Et nous change en ennemis!

    Non, que rien ne nous sépare!

    Non, rien!

    Jurons de rester amis!
    Oh oui, jurons de rester amis!

    Oui, c'est elle! C'est la déesse!
    En ce jour qui vient nous unir,
    Et fidèle à ma promesse,
    Comme un frère je veux te chérir!
    C'est elle, c'est la déesse
    Qui vient en ce jour nous unir!
    Oui, partageons le même sort,
    Soyons unis jusqu'à la mort!

    Amitié sainte
    Unis nos âmes fraternelles!
    Chassons sans retour
    Ce fatal amour,
    Et la main dans la main,
    en compagnons fidéles,
    Jusques à la mort,
    Ayons même sort!
    Qui, la main dans la main,
    En compagnons fideles
    Qui, soyons amis,
    Ah!, soyons amis jusqu'à la mort!.

    The cut is justified for me since the original score didn't contributed a lot, neither from a dramatic, nor a musical point of view.

    Let's hear first a version with Spanish singers Alfredo Kraus and Vicente Sardinero, singing in 1980:

  8. #8
    And here we can hear the version with the second stanza, sung by Yasu Nakajima and Luca Grassi:

  9. #9
    The aria for tenor "Je crois entendre encore" is arguably the most beautiful fragment of Les pêcheurs de perles.

    A short recitative, energetic when the "fièvre" and the "délire" are invoked, it's accompanied by the strings. Not the most inspired piece of music, but useful enough to prepare the listener for the incoming aria, modulating in the last sentence: "J'écoutais ses doux chants emportés dans l'espace".

    The romanza it's introduced by the English horn, the first time we hear this instrument in the opera. When finally settles in the tonality of A minor, two cellos accompany the voice in his dreamy trip of the score, while the muted violins double the vocal line. The contrast with the cellos is evocative, haunting.

    In the reprise, "Aux clartés des étoiles" the flute replaces the cellos, that now just decorate the melody. The high b-flats for the tenor are marked pianissimo and should be sung with an inefable sweetness, ideally in mezza voce. Traditionally, "charmant souvenir" is repeated at the end to sing a high C, not written in the score.


    À cette voix quel trouble agitait tout mon être?
    Quel fol espoir? Comment ai-je cru reconnaître?
    Hélas! devant mes yeux déjà, pauvre insensé,
    La même vision tant de fois a passé!
    Non, non, c'est le remords, la fièvre, le délire!
    Zurga doit tout savoir, j'aurais tout lui dire!
    Parjure à mon serment, j'ai voulu la revoir!
    J'ai decouvert sa trace, et j'ai suivi ses pas!
    Et caché dans la nuit et soupirant tout bas,
    J'écoutais ses doux chants emportés dans l'espace.


    Je crois entendre encore,
    Caché sous les palmiers,
    Sa voix tendre et sonore
    Comme un chant de ramier!
    O nuit enchanteresse!
    Divin ravissement!
    O souvenir charmant!
    Folle ivresse! doux rêve! rêve d'amour!

    Aux clartés des étoiles,
    Je crois encore la voir,
    Entr'ouvrir ses longs voiles
    Aux vents tièdes du soir!
    O nuit enchanteresse! etc.
    O souvenir charmant!
    Charmant souvenir!

    Let's hear Roberto Alagna:

  10. #10
    Leïla's cavatine: "Comme autrefois, dans la nuit sombre" has the most common aria's structure of the period: A-B-A', finishing with a coda. Perhaps the most interesting part is the central one, where Leïla thinks Nadir has been following her, and the voice is beautifully accompanied by the clarinets and the strings. The evocative parts A and A' are somewhat more restrained. Then, towards the end, the singer must visit the high zone of her range, and we can hear a very skilful end with the cellos, the woodwinds and the kettledrums.

    Comme autrefois dans la nuit sombre,
    Caché sous le feuillage épais,
    Il veille près de moi dans l'ombre,
    Je puis dormir, rêver en paix!

    Il veille près de moi,
    Comme autrefois, comme autrefois
    C'est lui! mes yeux l'ont reconnu!
    C'est lui! mon âme est rassurée!
    O bonheur! Il est venu,
    Il est là près de moi, ah!

    Comme autrefois dans la nuit sombre, etc.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); January 5th, 2018 at 03:50 AM.

  11. #11

    The characters and their voices: Nadir (I)

    Let's hear some of the more popular renditions of Nadir's aria. There are so many of them, that a selection was needed, of course.

    Enrico Caruso

    He recorded the aria several times. His voice was not really the best for Nadir, anyway, but this early rendition (1904) in Italian, accompanied by a piano, has some interest:

    However, this version in French, recorded twelve years later, is very wrong. Not only because he transposes the aria, and takes away a good part of the magic, but also for the unidiomatic performance and the energetic, unqualified singing:

    Giacomo Lauri-Volpi

    Also singing in Italian, the young Lauri-Volpi doesn't have any problem with the tessitura, and offers some splendid dynamics. A little bit too self-conscious, however:

    John McCormack

    Beautiful, but rather light version by the great Irish tenor (in Italian):

    The Russian tenors

    It's funny how the "Cingalese" fisherman character, written by a French composer, can be so well performed by Russians. Three great examples:

    Smirnov - in Italian, a dreamy, magical rendition:

    Sobinov - in Russian, no less dreamy, no less magical:

    Lemeshev - in Russian, arguably the best rendition ever. You can hear the young man in love, but you can hear also the imminent Death in his voice, almost a fourth character in the love triangle:

  12. #12

    The Characters and their voices: Nadir (II)

    Léopold Simoneau

    One of the classical references of the role. A well sung, sweet rendition, perhaps a trifle too bland.

    Henri Legay

    Also in style, but with a lesser voice than Simoneau's, and rather poor high notes:

    Ferruccio Tagliavini (in Italian)

    A consumate master in the use of the mezza voce. Not that incisive a phraser, though:

    Alain Vanzo

    More a light tenor than a lyrical, Vanzo's Nadir is convincing, though a little bit too affected:

    Alfredo Kraus

    With a different approach than the French singers above, Nadir was one of the best roles sung by Kraus:

    Nicolai Gedda

    With a similar approach than the French singers above, Nadir was one of the best roles sung by Gedda:

  13. #13

    The Characters and their voices: Leïla

    Leïla is supposed to be the character around which everything revolves, the love interest of both Zurga and Nadir, the priestesses that breathes fire into the life of this small community of fishers... but the somewhat less interesting music that Bizet wrote for her, makes the female singer takes a second place to their male counterparts. The final result is that very few star sopranos have ever tackled the role.

    This is perhaps the first ever Leïla on record, made by the Italian soprano Olimpia Boronat in 1904. Just for the lovers of the first acoustic recordings:

    Now, let's review the best French singers:

    Janine Micheau was a very good Leïla on stage during the 1950s and 1960s, and she recorded the role twice. The quality of the French singing and the style are apparent here:

    Pierrette Alarie

    A trifle too light for the role, perhaps:

    Andrée Esposito

    Unbeatable 'physique du role' for the part, but too full a voice, perhaps:

    Liliane Berton

    Such a perfect French diction, and with the right type of voice:

    Annick Massis:

    Again a great 'physique du role', but also embodied in a sweet, slightly dreamy, voice that also fit the vocal character:

    Apart from the French singers, there are good renditions by several sopranos, but perhaps the one closer to hitting the mark was Mirella Freni, in the 1960s:

  14. #14

    The characters and their voices: Zurga

    Let's now briefly review some of the singers that have tackled the role of Zurga.

    The French ones

    René Bianco

    Michel Dens

    Gabriel Bacquier

    Ernest Blanc

    The non-French ones:

    Giuseppe Taddei (in Italian)

    Sesto Bruscantini

    Vicente Sardinero

  15. #15
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    North Carolina, USA
    Post Thanks / Like
    If you came to this page through a link from another site, please consider exploring our other exclusive interviews (Anna Netrebko's, Joyce DiDonato's, Anna Caterina Antonacci's, Luca Pisaroni's, Thomas Hampson's, Piotr Beczala's, scholar Dr. Philip Gossett's, veteran singer Sylvia Sass', tenor Jay Hunter Morris, and stage director Thaddeus Strassberger's are especially good, among about 80 artists), news, and articles by clicking on the Articles tab above and using our new clickable content index [here], or the Section Widget on the top left of the page; our very active discussion Forum (of course, by clicking on the Forum tab - and please notice that over there we also have an area with content in Spanish, German, French, Italian, and Portuguese).

    And then if you like what you see, consider registering as a member so that you can post your own comments (it's entirely free and will remain so) and please use our social media share buttons to "like" our site and "tweet" about it to your opera-loving friends. Thank you for visiting Opera Lively!

    You might also consider the purchase of our book "Opera Lively - The Interviews" - full announcement and links to sales points [here].

    Bookmark our site and come back for more - several new and exciting interviews are always coming to Opera Lively - recent ones have included composer Kevin Puts, tenor Giuseppe Filianoti and mezzo Magdalena Kozená (all three already published), the great veteran singer Frederica von Stade (already recorded, still to be transcribed), emerging soprano Jessica Pratt (also recorded, pending trancribing), and scheduled for the next few days, Diana Damrau, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Maestro Marco Armiliato, and Maestro Yannick Nézét-Séguin.

Similar Threads

  1. Opera in-Depth: Lulu
    By Schigolch in forum Educational Threads
    Replies: 18
    Last Post: April 22nd, 2013, 06:03 PM
  2. Opera In-Depth: Les Troyens
    By Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) in forum Educational Threads
    Replies: 8
    Last Post: May 25th, 2012, 05:09 PM
  3. Beyond the Standard Repertoire: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
    By Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) in forum General Operatic Discussion
    Replies: 3
    Last Post: February 8th, 2012, 12:52 AM
  4. Article: Beyond the Standard Repertoire: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
    By Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) in forum CMS Articles - Comments Forum
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: February 7th, 2012, 04:30 AM
    By Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) in forum CMS Articles - Comments Forum
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: December 19th, 2011, 06:10 AM


Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts

free html visitor counters
hit counter

Official Media Partners of Opera Carolina

Opera Lively is the Official Media Partner of Opera Carolina

Official Media Partners of NC Opera

Opera Lively is the Official Media Partner of North Carolina Opera

Official Media Partners of Greensboro Opera

Opera Lively is the Official Media Partner of Greensboro Opera

Official Media Partners of The A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute and Piedmont Opera

Opera Lively is the Official Media Partner of The A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute
of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and Piedmont Opera

Official Media Partners of Asheville Lyric Opera

Opera Lively is the Official Media Partner of Asheville Lyric Opera

Official Media Partners of UNC Opera

Opera Lively is the Official Media Partner of UNC Opera
Dept. of Music, UNC-Chapel Hill College of Arts and Sciences