Painting a picture of paradise, of golden sands and colourful silks, Opera Australia’s new production of The Pearlfishers at Arts Centre Melbourne offers audiences a chance to hear Bizet’s passionate music in a new light.
Director Michael Gow with set and costumes by Robert Kemp bring to life the colour and vibrancy of Ceylon in their high-stakes retelling of The Pearlfishers. By recasting all the male principal characters as colonialists, Gow brings the brutal nature of the pearl trade to the forefront.
“The Pearlfishers is a challenging piece because nobody has ever found a complete score written in Bizet’s hand,” said Lyndon Terracini, Opera Australia’s Artistic Director. “In commissioning this new production I knew I wanted Michael Gow to direct because he’s first and foremost a playwright. Michael’s explored backstory and drama that is worthy of the incredible score, which features one of the most famous male duets in music – Au fond du temple saint.”
Australian audiences may recognise the song from its 1981 renaissance courtesy of Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli. Star Australian soprano Emma Matthews takes the role of Léïla, the priestess whom the locals entrust to safeguard their pearl divers.
Australian/Argentinian José Carbó (Zurga) and Russian Dmitry Korchak (Nadir) play the colonialists who fight for Léïla’s affection, blind to loyalty, their lover’s safety and the customs of their adopted home. Steven Gallop will play the role of Nourabad, reimagined as a westerner profiteering from Léïla’s reputation.
“I’m thrilled The Pearlfishers is coming to the State Theatre so we can utilise that incredible space to showcase the scale of Robert’s designs, and of course fill the auditorium with the phenomenal choral sound that is the signature of this opera,” said Michael Gow.
“Working on a new production in any art form is rare treat, and I think the way this show has turned out is testament to the creative freedom Opera Australia gave us and the endless talent we can draw upon in this country, right from the people who sew the costumes to Matt Scott’s striking lighting design.”
“The opportunity to again work with Emma Matthews, José Carbó and inspiring French conductor Guillaume Tourniaire is an embarrassment of riches, and I’m excited to meet new young tenor Dmitry Korchak,” added Gow.
Bizet never saw The Pearlfishers re-staged after its premiere and sadly died before his masterpiece Carmen became a hit. This Melbourne staging is the first new Opera Australia production of this opera since 2000, specially commissioned for the 60th anniversary year.
State Theatre – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St. Kilda Road, Melbourne
Season: 7 – 28 May 2016
Bookings: 1300 182 183 or online at: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au
Image: Emma Matthews as Léïla in The Pearlfishers – photo by Jeff Busby