The Pearl Fishers at ENO


Although a night at the opera can be cheaper than a day at the races or at a Premier League football match, it is still often decried as a slightly curious indulgence of the rich and elitist. Many are not quite sure just what opera actually is: a peculiarly camp form of classical music, stylised musicals for the posh, or just something that allows people to feel superior by listening to something in a language they (or we) can’t even understand? Opera today has a question to answer in terms of just what it is that makes it valuable.

Against a backdrop of deep cuts across arts funding, has opera a particularly strong case for the defence in comparison to, say, fine art or indeed street dance?

But does opera really have to be ‘relevant’? With music, singing, the libretto, the drama and spectacle, opera is a unique synthesis of artforms meant to give voice to what is inexpressible in our existence.

For those who have never been to an opera, The Pearl Fishers ENO production is the perfect introduction to this beautiful performing artform. English National Opera is one of the world’s most innovative and accessible opera houses and production companies with outstanding theatrical and contemporary performances.

Set in ancient times on the island of Ceylon, The Pearl Fishers offers a compelling tale of friendship tested by love. Amid Bizet’s outpouring of memorable melodies, colourful orchestration and evocative choruses is a story that is not all sweetness and light. A painful love triangle exploring themes of desire and rejection, longing and loss, and religious strictures lies at the heart of the opera.

Pearl Fishers isn’t an easy opera to stage because it teeters on the edge of different realities and expectations. Rory Macdonald conducting brought out the inherent turbulence in the music. But full credit should go to Penny Woolcock and her team. This perceptive production finds the hidden pearls in the depths of this magnificent and surprisingly unpredictable opera.


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