Music with Ease > 19th Century French Opera > The Pearl Fishers - Bizet
The Pearl Fishers
(Original French title: Les Pêcheurs de perles)
An Opera by Georges Bizet
Besides "Carmen," Bizet was the composer of "Les Pêcheurs de Perles" (The Pearl Fishers) and "Djamileh."
"Les Pêcheurs de Perles," the words by Carré and Cormon, is in three acts. It was produced at the Théâtre Lyrique, Paris, September 29, 1863. London saw it under the title of "Leila," April 22, 1887, at Covent Garden; as "Pescatori di Perle." May 18, 1899. The New York production was at the Metropolitan Opera House, January 11, 1896, with Calvé; and November 13, 1916, with Caruso. The scene is Ceylon, the period barbaric.
The first act shows a company of pearl fishers on the coast. They choose Zurga as chief. He and his friend Nadir, in the duet, "Au fond du temple saint" (In the depths of the temple), recall their former rivalry for the hand of the beautiful priestess, Leila, and how they swore never to see her again.
Now approaches a veiled priestess who comes annually to pray for the success of the pearl fishers. She prays to Brahma. Nadir recognizes Leila. His love for her at once revives. She goes into the temple. He sings "Je crois encore entendre" (I hear as in a dream). When she returns and again invokes the aid of Brahma, she manages to convey to Nadir the knowledge that she has recognized and still loves him.
In the second act, in a ruined temple, the high priest, Nourabad, warns her, on pain of death, to be faithful to her religious vows. Leila tells him he need have no fear. She never breaks a promise. The necklace she wears was given her by a fugitive, whose hiding place she refused to reveal, although the daggers of his pursuers were pointed at her heart. She had promised not to betray him. Her solo, "Comme autrefois," etc. (A fugitive one day), is followed by the retirement of the priest, and the entrance of Nadir. There is an impassioned love duet, the effect of which is heightened by a raging storm without: "Ton coeur na pas compris (You have not understood). Nourabad, returning unexpectedly, overhears the lovers, and summons the people. Zurga, as chief and judge, desires to be merciful for the sake of his friend. But, Nourabad tears the veil from Leila. It is the woman Nadir has sworn never to see -- the woman Zurga also loves. Enraged, he passes sentence of death upon them.
In the third act, the camp of Zurga, Leila expresses her willingness to die, but pleads for Nadir, "Pour noi je ne crains rien" (I have no fear). Zurga is implacable, until he recognizes the necklace she wears as one he had given many years before to the girl who refused when he was a fugitive to deliver him to his enemies. The scene changes to the place of execution, where has been erected a funeral pyre. Just as the guilty lovers are to be led to their death, a distant glow is seen. Zurga cries out that the camp is on fire. The people rush away to fight the flames. Zurga tells Leila and Nadir that he set fire to the camp. He then unfastens their chains and bids them flee. Terzet: "O lumière sante" (O sacred light).
From a hiding place Nourabad has witnessed the scene. When the people return, he denounces Zurgas act in setting fire to the camp and permitting Leila and Nadir to escape. Zurga is compelled to mount the pyre. A deep glow indicates that the forest is ablaze. The people prostrate themselves to Brahma, whose wrath they fear.
Leila is for soprano, Nadir tenor, Zurga baritone, Nourabad bass.
In the performance with Calvé only two acts were given. The rest of the program consisted of "La Navarraise," by Massenet.