Sunday, September 29, 2013

Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of The Pearl Fishers

Philip Cutlip as Zurga at Minnesota Opera
On this date 150 years ago, Georges Bizet' s Les pêcheurs de perles  (The Pearl Fishers) premiered at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. Along with Carmen, it's one of his nine operas that has managed to maintain a place in the standard repertoire of opera companies around the world. Occasional performance of La jolie fille de Perth and Ivan IV can still be seen, but they are relatively rare.

The Pearl Fishers tells the story of how two men's vow of eternal friendship is threatened by their love for the same woman, whose own dilemma is the conflict between secular love and her sacred oath as a priestess.

Despite a good reception by the public, press reactions to The Pearl Fishers were generally hostile and dismissive, although other composers, notably Hector Berlioz, found considerable merit in the music. The opera was not revived in Bizet's lifetime, but from 1886 onwards it was performed with some regularity in Europe and America.

William Burden and (the original barihunk) Nathan Gunn in Pearl Fishers:

After its opening run, The Pearl Fishers was not performed again until eleven years after Bizet's death when it was presented in Italian at La Scala on March 20, 1886. After this it received regular stagings in European cities, often with the Italian version of the libretto. These revivals, which possibly reflected the growing success of Carmen, were followed by the publication of several versions of the music that incorporated significant differences from Bizet's original.

The opera is also somewhat responsible for the term "barihunks," as opera lore has it that director Francesca Zambella coined the phrase to describe a shirtless Nathan Gunn, who was singing the role of Zurga in her Philadelphia production in 2004.

The role of Zurga has certainly kept us busy at Barihunks, as it is often staged either shirtless or with a liberal amount of skin exposed. Barihunks on the site as Zurga include Lee Poulis, Philip Cutlip, Nmon Ford, Troy Cook, Craig Verm, Liam Bonner, David Adam Moore and, of course, Nathan Gunn.

Upcoming performances of the opera, include performances the Fort Worth Opera Festival from April 19 to May 2, 2014 starring Lee Poulis as Zurga and Sean Panikkar (of Forte fame) as Nadir. As an added bonus, barihunk Justin Hopkins has been cast as Nourabad. The production will be directed by the exciting and talented John de los Santos. 

A concert performance in Nantes, France will feature two barihunks familiar to readers of the site, Etienne Dupuis as Zurga and Nicolas Courjal as Nourabad.

1 comment:

  1. That Philadelphia Pearl Fishers production was directed by Kay Walker Castaldo. The Zambello production I think you're referring to was the Glimmerglass "Iphigenie en Tauride" where Gunn and Burden played Oreste and Pylades chained together in loincloths.