Georges Bizet’s early opera, “The Pearl Fishers,” unlike his highly dramatic “Carmen,” has little going for it besides some hauntingly beautiful arias and duets.
The formulaic plot, about two pearl divers in ancient Ceylon competing for the love of a Brahmin priestess, needs a lot of help through its three acts. N.C. Opera’s production had successful elements, but at Friday’s performance, rudimentary stage direction and languorous conducting made it stodgy and often clichéd.
The best impression came from the chorus, singing prayers and protestations with powerful precision under chorus master Scott Macleod. The principal singers did what they could within the production’s limitations.
Soprano Talise Trevigne projected Leïla’s wistful second act aria, about her lover Nadir, with lovely, warm tone. She sang fervently in her third act confrontation with, Zurga, Nadir’s rival, and with both in the final trio.
John Bellemer’s bright tenor made Nadir’s outbursts ring, while negotiating, if not fully controlling, the role’s numerous lyric passages. Jarrett Ott’s lean but penetrating baritone confidently portrayed Zurga’s authority as village chief and anguish as spurned lover. Bass Jordan Bisch sang the high priest Nourabad grandly, if blandly.
With so many contemplative sections, the conductor must keep the work moving forward during those delicate passages. However, the company’s esteemed music director Timothy Myers too often luxuriated in the lyricism, draining needed energy and flow. Even the famous tenor-baritone friendship duet lacked its full effect. However, for the opera’s few dramatic sections, Myers drew thrilling responses from the 40-piece orchestra.
Such moments were rarely reflected on stage, the singers’ tentative, often clumsy movements did no credit to stage director Candace Evans. She also choreographed the six dancers from Carolina Ballet, whose precision and flashy presence seemed to indicate where Evans focused much of her attention.
The production’s atmospheric sets of ruined temples and humble huts (borrowed from Sarasota Opera) were a major asset, further enhanced by Ken Yunker’s dusk and nighttime lighting. Denise Schumaker’s costumes for the principals were unflattering and awkwardly fitted.
N.C. Opera deserves thanks for scheduling this rarely presented work. Friday’s audience cheered vociferously during curtain calls, signally the production was engaging, despite the less than ideal presentation.
What: Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers.” Presented by N.C. Opera
Where: Memorial Auditorium, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Info: 919-792-3853 or ncopera.org