By Lawrence Budmen 

When the curtain rose on Florida Grand Opera’s production of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers on Saturday at the Arsht Center, the opening night audience was transported to the exotic world of Zandra Rhodes. 

Rhodes, for nearly three decades one of London’s most innovative and hip fashion designers, created the milieu of ancient Ceylon in a distinctive manner. Palm trees with pink leaves, extravagant costumes in wild turquoise and iridescent orange and endless glittering streamers filled the stage with color and flash. Reminiscent of 1940’ s Hollywood exotica with a touch of Disney, Rhodes’ production was a show in itself. 

The designer’s brilliantly zany sets and costumes were enhanced by director Andrew Sinclair’s stunning tableaus and choreographer John Malashock’s wonderfully entertaining send ups of Mikhail Fokine’ s Oriental balletic spectacles. 

While not a timeless masterpiece like Bizet’s Carmen, Pearl Fishers is the remarkable work of a 24 year old genius, replete with haunting melodies, colorful orchestral and choral writing, and grand o peratic ensembles and spectacle. The opera’s libretto is pallid drama, a love triangle between two fishermen and a veiled priestess. 

Bizet’s sensuous score was well served by an excellent cast and stylish orchestral and choral forces. Maureen O’ Flynn brought movie star glamour and vocal allure to the role of the priestess Leila. Her pure, high soprano caressed in soft reverie and thrilled with crystalline flights of coloratura. 

William Burden’s light tenor is perfect for French repertoire As Nadir, Burden spun exquisite pianissimos in the aria Je crois entendre encore, his high register free of strain. Once a fine Mozartean, he has made a successful transition to mainstream romantic roles , singing with artistry and conviction. 

In the pivotal role of Zurga, Lucas Meachem deployed a medium sized baritone artfully and dominated the stage, vividly conveying Zurga’ s anger, jealousy, and ultimate sacrifice. In the famous duet Au fond du Temple Saint, Meachem and Burden waxed lyrical in perfectly matched timbres. 

As Nourabad, the opera’s certifiable villain, Turkish bass Burak Bilgili declaimed with incisive vehemence but also weaved darkly burnished cantabile lines. 

Long a champion of French opera, Stewart Robertson conducted with unflagging momentum and masterfully delineated Bizet’ s elegantly colored wind and string writing. The Florida Classical Orchestra played with clarity and refinement and Katherine Kozak’s chorus was often thrilling. Bizet’s gentle Gallic felicities were beguilingly painted in sight and sound. 

Copyright Sun-Sentinel


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