Inspiration from the Sea
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
10/07/2017 - & October 15, 19*, 22, 25, 28, 2017
Georges Bizet: Les Pêcheurs de perles
Nino Machaidze (Leïla), Javier Camarena (Nadir), Alfredo Daza (Zurga), Nicholas Brownlee (Nourabad)
Los Angeles Opera Chorus, Grant Gershon (chorus director), Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, Plácido Domingo*/Grant Gershon (conductor)
Penny Woolcock (stage director), Dick Bird (set designer), Kevin Pollard (costume designer), Jen Schriever (lighting designer), 59 Productions (projection design), Andrew Dawson (movement director/aerial choreographer), Austin Spangler (fight choreographer)
A. Daza, N. Machaidze (© Ken Howard)
Those with a penchant for Bizet will be gratified by a French double-dose featuring The Pearl Fishers that lands right on the heels of the LA Opera’s vapid season opener of Carmen. Much thought has gone into this production, as seen through eyes of Penny Woolcock, especially since her earlier film work has delved into the belly of the demi-monde population. She deftly gives us “food for thought”, by peripherally pointing out social injustices sans outright blatancy. There’s a sense of awareness Ms. Woolcock brings to the table, an outreach which makes one ponder The Pearl Fishers “of the day” and “in the now.” Suggestions (via Kevin Pollard’s costuming) point at 19th century stigmatized French Orientalism, though innocuous items sift onto the stage (i.e. propaganda pamphlets, electric poles, computer, refrigerator, steel filing cabinets) bearing moments of rethink. Thus, we have a way of positioning ourselves to conclude Ms. Woolcock bears a wider universal message.
British cohort, Dick Bird, fills the Dorothy Chandler with a poverty-stricken Sri Lankan village, riddled by stacks upon stacks of corrugated tin roofs and multitudinous levels of rickety planks in addition to a murky effulgence by way of Jen Schriever’s moody lighting. Ahead of this, our eyes are funneled into the ocean’s blue depths with a luminescent, magical immersion during Bizet’s slender “Prélude.” 59 Productions creates the most stunning visual effects featuring a band of divers swimming into the water’s infinitesimal reaches for pearl harvesting. Furthermore, other subtle parallel drives “tug” at the production, with the portrayal of a tsunami and its foreboding fallout that Penny Woolcock hints at during the recent Puerto Rican natural disaster.
J. Camarena, N. Machaidze (© Ken Howard)
The big ruckus centers around the adulterous priestess, Leïla. Having scored numerous successes in her operatic career including LA Opera’s 2011 Il turco in Italia and Roméo et Juliette onstage as well as on DVD in Salzburg, Nino Machaidze senses all aspects of her character with enthralling pulse. This brassy-tinged soprano absorbs the ear with depth-defying control and the ability to engulf notes with quixotic change. Her numerous passages permeate and touch the heart alongside Plácido Domingo’s brisk, well-paced tempo. Ms. Machaidze expresses her cavatina, “Comme autrefois”, by establishing boundaries of delicate edging and flashes of elegant grace notes. That’s not to say we don’t have stronger, emotional elements at hand for debuting Javier Camarena’s unblemished vocal skills are on an equal azimuth to those of, say, Juan Diego Flórez. His aria, “Je crois entendre encore” introduces us to his lyrical warmth: reliably controlled with effortless delineation and lightness.
A. Daza, N. Machaidze (© Ken Howard)
The third leg of this love triangle pivots to Alfredo Daza and his Zurga where he begins a bit of a “sleeper” inside Act I...but, perhaps, for reasons yet unexplained (until later.) Balancing with a cane is no ordinary prop...this is a necessity. [This is the first opera he’s sung since sustaining an injury after being mugged in Berlin earlier this year.] Ms. Woolcock builds this temporal handicap into an exponential positive by magnifying his tormented and angered pain during “L’orage s’est calmé.” This is the most poignantly dramatic moment in the opera: he pathetically whittles away a couple layers of Kevin Pollard clothing, down to a black t-shirt. Revealed is a raw, sweaty man, bereft and defeated.
And if the friction isn’t grand enough, the high priest, Nourabad, delivers another level of abrasion through Nicholas Brownlee. Ire is set ablaze in his voice and there’s no messing with this religious figurehead.
Grant Gershon’s choir, again, delivers exceptional balance and projection, making this The Pearl Fishers sparkle and crackle with nail biting energy. This is a synergistic spectacle and exceedingly compelling.