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The Metropolitan Opera’s latest production has everyone, even opera newbies, heading uptown to Lincoln Center. For the first time in a century, the company is performing Georges Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers), his 1863 romantic tragedy. The Knickerbocker team was in the audience to see the new production after it opened to rave reviews in The New York Times last week.
If you’ve ever been curious about opera, this is great place to start (for one thing, the story is super easy to follow).
For more reasons why The Pearl Fishers is the talk of the town this opera season—even among non-opera buffs—read on.
The last time anyone in New York saw a full performance of The Pearl Fishers was in one of just three performances in the Met’s 1916 season, starring Enrico Caruso (who happened to be a Knickerbocker regular!). It’s an easy-to-follow tale of two best friends who have fallen in love with the same woman, a priestess torn between heavenly vows and romantic love. Originally set in ancient Sri Lanka, The Pearl Fishers of 2015 takes place somewhere in contemporary, coastal Southeast Asia.
Even though the story and most of the arias will be new for audience members, one song will be familiar. The first act’s “Au Fond du Temple Saint,” sung by the newly reunited best friends, is one of the most famous songs in the opera world. It is a mainstay at classical concerts, even at the Met. And while the song comes early on in the story, its gorgeous melody reappears throughout the opera.
Set designer Dick Bird makes his Met debut with a multi-level waterfront village complete with moving boats, twinkling lanterns and, ultimately, fire. The climactic and surprising finale is as beautiful for the setting as it is for the storyline.
Unlike Broadway shows, where audiences show up to an evening show in jeans and a tee shirt, opera performances still attract a black-tie crowd. Tuxes and ball gowns are still common (though not the norm—most people we saw were in business-formal and cocktail attire). Among our favorite outfits from the audience: a man in a tuxedo, complete with a caped coat and top hat, and a woman in a red satin gown with a diamond necklace and long black gloves. Anyone looking for an excuse to dress up, look no further than the Met’s Pearl Fishers this winter.
This production runs for just a month, giving crowds only a few more chances to see Bizet’s work. The Met may produce the piece again in coming years, but probably not with this cast: Diana Damrau shines as the priestess Leïla, and Mariusz Kweicien and Matthew Polenzani are equally radiant as Zurga and Nadir, two reunited best friends.
For tickets and more information, visit the Met’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles website. And of course, stop by the Knickerbocker for signature pre- or post-show drinks.