A Review of Opera San Jose’s performance of The Pearl Fishers at the California Theatre
By Bramani Spiteri
A journey of forbidden love, secrecy, revenge, and regret, Opera San Jose’s 29th season, “Secrets
Revealed” opened on September 8, 2012 with French composer Georges Bizet’s The Pearl
Fishers at the California Theatre. Set on the shores of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) a village of pearl
fishers looks to Zurga, played by returning resident baritone Evan Brummel, as its leader.
Shortly into the first act, Nadir, a past rival and current friend of the new king, arrives. The role
of Nadir is filled by another returning resident company member, tenor Alexander Boyer.
The opening scenes of the opera prove to be less than tantalizing, with plenty of fault to go
around. There were, however, a few diamonds in the rough. The set and costuming create
great depth and color in most aspects, although a large head reminiscent of the 1990’s game
show Legends of the Hidden Temple proves a distraction. Only once, later in the first act, when
Nadir lies in front of the huge sculpted features after singing “Je crois entendre encore” does the
beautiful symmetry in posture and lines add to the visual interest of the set; it is otherwise a poor
A much-anticipated rendition of “Au fond du temple saint”, the famous duet where Nadir and
Zurga proclaim their dedication to their friendship and denounce the lustful wonders of an
unnamed priestess, does nothing to improve one’s impression of the first act. Boyer certainly
outshines Brummel during their duets, but neither is particularly spectacular. Brummel struggles
to project sincerity and neither stays on pitch.
Performers were not helped at all by a poorly tuned orchestra. Unfortunately, this was only
accentuated by the beautifully composed dissonant tones of Bizet’s pieces. Conducted by
Anthony Quartuccio, music director of South Valley Symphony, the orchestra seemed to
compete with performers, especially during the program’s featured duets.
In her company debut, Cecilia Violetta Lopez enters as Leila, the veiled virgin priestess, come
to pray for the fishers’ safety and honor her commitment to chastity. Lopez quickly becomes an
indispensable asset in an otherwise-shaky Act One. And although the dancers could seem heavy
on their feet at some points, choreographer Lise la Cour provides relief to the opening act by
incorporating ethnic lines into ballet form in an incredibly beautiful manner.
With the plot well on its way, the company completely redeems itself in Act Two, set in the
midst of the night. Lopez and Boyer are fabulous together as their characters, Nadir and Leila,
discover each other once again and fall to the will of their love despite the priestess’s oath to
the village and Nadir’s promise to Zurga. Silas Elash delivers a wonderful performance as
Nourabad, the priest tasked with keeping watch over Leila who unknowingly seals the couple’s
fate when he reveals the priestess’s identity to Zurga after they are found out by the villagers.
Zurga’s love for her flares, but his jealousy pushes him into rage. He condemns his friend and
the woman he loves to death. The orchestra has a shining moment of its own as a beautiful
cascade played on the flute transitions seamlessly into the clarinet. The sounds of the instruments
melt together creating an incredible alloy of talent. This is what the audience came to see!
The curtain closes on Act Two, and one is hopeful that the third and final act will continue this
Act Three brings an exciting twist of fate to the story, turning jealousy into remorse. Brummel
completely contradicts his earlier performance, filling the intimate theatre with the beautiful
baritone melodies of the third act. Lopez, Boyer, and Elash carry their strong performances
from the second act through to the end. The chorus balances male and female parts beautifully,
creating a fierce array of tones, a background that allows the soloists to shine.
With opening night jitters a thing of the past, it is a shame that the opera will only be running
until September 23rd. Fortunately, The Pearl Fishers is only the beginning of the 2012-2013
season. We expect that Opera San Jose will continue to deliver exceptional performances
throughout the year.
Bramani Spiteri is the coordinator of the performance arts network Soul Expressions (www.BramaniSoulExpressions.com). She can be reached by email at Bramani@BramaniSoulExpressions.com and by phone at 304-282-6826.