REVIEW: The Pearl Fishers @ Playhouse Square 9/23/10

Passion drives everyone a bit mad in this Bizet opera. The Pearl Fishers suffers from a weak storyline (even for opera, it’s lame). But who cares? This Opera Cleveland and GroundWorks DanceTheatre production of The Pearl Fishers delighted in Bizet’s melodious score and the opportunities it offered for great dance numbers. Hints of Bizet’s masterwork, “Carmen” (which came a dozen years after), lurk throughout but Kay Walker-Castaldo, stage director, Dean Williamson, music director, and David Shimoktakahara, choreographer and GroundWorks DanceTheater director, revealed the luster inherent in this earlier work.

The plot turns on what is billed as a love triangle between the enchanting Leila (vocally voluptuous soprano Caitlin Lynch), Nadir (stalwart tenor Robert McPherson) and Zurga (compelling and sexy baritone Michael Todd Simpson [a must-see on “barihunks” opera blog]). Nadir and Zurga share a “Nip/Tuck” relationship, expressed right off the bat (First Act) in “Au fond du temple saint,” the justly famous duet, where they swear no woman can come between them again. The rest of the opera shows how wrong and how right they were.

The impressive GroundWorks five-dancer ensemble seemed to number twenty-five, showing with their bodies emotions joyful and, in a riveting closing mob scene, terrifyingly bloodthirsty. The orchestra showed once again what fine musicians make their home in Cleveland. Bottom line: The addition of the GroundWorks dancers turned a paper-thin story line into a richly rewarding opera event for an appreciative audience.

Laura Kennelly is a freelance arts journalist, a member of the Music Critics Association of North America, and an associate editor of BACH, a scholarly journal devoted to J. S. Bach and his circle.

Listening to and learning more about music has been a life-long passion. She knows there’s no better place to do that than the Cleveland area.

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