Pearl Fishers - May 2006

Roy Atterbury
- Kentish Times - 25th May 2006

Gem of a love fest triangle

The strange thing about Bizet's The Pearl Fishers is that it seems to have come from a completely different pen from that of the composer who created one of the world's most popular operas Carmen, writes Roy Atterbury.

Indeed, if the work had not contained one of the most loved tenor/baritone duets ever written, Au fond du temple saint (In the depths of the temple), perhaps it might not have achieved the popularity it now enjoys.

Nevertheless, it remains a fine work that allows for plenty of spectacle and the not unusual elements of forbidden love, hate and friendship in abundance.

Set in a coastal village in Ceylon, it also is a dream scenario for costume and lighting designers.

Kentish Opera has performed the work twice in the past few years and it was welcome news then the highly talented company announced that it was to mount a revival at the Churchill Theatre.

With over sixty performers, imposing sets by Enid Strutt and truly superb costumes by Carol Stevenson, the director, Sally Langford, created a production that seemed somewhat moodier and darker than had been the case in previous productions.

Lighting designer, Colin Martin, also appeared to have followed this route and it was rare for the whole stage to be fully lit to show off the costumes in their glory.

But this did little to hide the fact that the production was yet another triumph for the company. Typically, Kentish Opera uses different principal singers on different nights to rest their voices and as a result different audiences might see slightly different interpretations by the professional principals according to the night they went.

Just how much these differences might have made is something I will never know.
Certainly, it would have been difficult to find fault with the artists who appeared on the Wednesday night, with Claire Surman singing the part of Leila, a virgin priestess who had once been wooed by two friends (Zurga and Nadir) many years before and whose relationship had been strained to the limits by their love of the same woman.

So much so, Nadir (Jim Heath) had left the village while, in time, Zurga (Michael Fitchew) had become the head of the pearl fishers who lived under his influence of the traditional Gods, religions and customs.

When Nadir suddenly returns, he quickly rekindles his relationship with Zurga, which allows the introduction of the duet. It is a supremely beautiful example of Bizet's work and the two dingers produced a sublime version of the piece which drew instant acclamation from the audience.

Tim Heath has a particularly eloquent tenor voice which was a joy to hear and he is also a very good actor.

Michael Fitchew made a powerful and effective Zurga and although his voice 'wobbled' briefly in come of this more demanding arias, he created a very imposing stage presence.

Claire Surman's soprano managed to maintain a sweetness of tone that was always able to generate the required emotional elements to bring depth to the inner torments of her character. Bass, Paul Hodges, too, was outstanding as the High Priest.

A feast for the eyes, dancing (directed and choreographed by Terry John Bates) and large scale production scenes that underwrote the quality and discipline of the chorus and performers joined with Mark Fitz-Gerald's highly professional orchestra to enable Sally Langford's extraordinary artistic direction to make its usual impact.