In Quest of Exotic French Opera – 2008

This website has reviewed performances in the United States of two operas from, respectively,  France’s Second Empire and Third Republic –  Bizet’s “Les Pecheurs de Perles” and Saint-Saens’ “Samson et Dalila”.   Their stories  incorporate exotic and fantastic themes; the music that Bizet and Saint-Saens composed for these operas are as immersed in exoticism as the storylines themselves.

With this post, we will begin to  highlight performances of this lavish style of  French operas – by Bizet, Delibes, Massenet and Saint-Saens –  that we plan to attend and review.

Since we know of new productions of such works that should be announced before too long, we will update this page for 2008-09 within a few weeks.

Lakme (Delibes), Tulsa Opera, February 23, 29, March 2

Tulsa is one my favorite mid-Continent cities, but I have never attended an opera there.   However, I could not resist  witnessing the return to her home state of  Muskogee’s Sarah Coburn for her scheduled  performances  of Lakme’s coloratura fireworks.  (Coburn is not the only diva who hails from the Sooner State.   A few months ago,  I  was driving on Leona Mitchell Way in Enid, named after the famous soprano.)

Now, from the distance of time, we can begin to appreciate this French view of the cultural interaction (and illicit love entanglements) of  an English  Army officer  and a Hindu cult’s priestess in  Britain’s Raj.    For those familiar only  with the opera’s highlights,  as enchanting as is the music  of the Bell Song and the duet – Viens, Mallika  (which one can hear in the commercials for Ghirardelli Chocolates and NBC TV’s “Las Vegas”)  – between Lakme (Coburn) and Mallika (Priti Gandhi), there is much more beautiful music than just these familiar hits.

[Below: a promotional poster for Lakme; resized image, courtesy of the Tulsa Opera.]

Lakme’s love interest, Gerald (Eric Margiore), is one of the plum leggiero tenor roles in the French repertoire, even if the character’s actions make Pinkerton in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” seem  a model of political correctness in his female relationships.   Marcus DeLoach is Lakme’s father, Nilakantha.   Kyle Pfortmiller is Gerald’s often dismayed comrade in arms, Frederic.

For the performance review, see: Sarah Coburn’s Ravishing Tulsa Opera Lakme – February 29, 2008

The Pearl Fishers   – Les Pecheurs de Perles (Bizet), San Diego Opera, May 3, 6, 9, 11 (m)    This is an (augmented)  repeat from my “Best Bet Revivals”  list for 2007-08:

San Diego Opera tickets  can be notoriously hard to secure, when the word gets out that an upcoming production is expected to be a hit.   This production, created in 2004 by pop artist Zandra Rhodes, sold out months in advance.   On its tour to other U. S. cities, including a very successful mounting at the San Francisco Opera, it charmed audiences everywhere. Returning to the San Diego Civic  Theatre four seasons later, it highlights Charles Castronovo,  who was memorable as  Nadir in San Francisco, with Ekaterina Siurina (Leila) and Malcolm MacKenzie (Zurga) completing the triangle.   Jose Gallisa reprises Nourabad, and Karen Keltner conducts.

[Below: A promotional poster featuring Charles Castronovo as Nadir; resized image, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]

Although one expects ticket sales to be brisk for “The Pearl Fishers” anyway, San Diego Opera, having secured a tenor with one of the best physiques among operatic males, has blazoned his picture in  his  bare-chested Nadir costume  on its website (, and promoted the human interest of  Castronovo’s real-life romance and marriage to his Leila (Siurina). They  fell in love with each other while performing Nemorino and Adina in Donizetti’s “Elixir of Love”!    As further inducement, all are invited to imbibe as a musical elixir, through  San Diego Opera’s  website,  the intoxicating music of Nadir’s famous duet with Zurga, “Au fond du temple sainte”.  Talk about savvy marketing!

If one is able to secure tickets to this delight, regard it as more than  the “guilty pleasure” that some characterize this 1863 work to be.   The San Diego production benefits from some of the excellent musicological scholarship that Bizet’s operas are experiencing in recent years.   This performance will be  much closer to what Bizet intended than traditional 20th century performances, and proves revelatory as an early flash of genius from  one of the great  composers who died tragically young. For the real guilty pleasure, you  will be  in San Diego in early May.

For more on Bizet, the musicological scholarship on “Pecheurs de Perles” and Zandra Rhodes (and the connection  between this opera and the event that created Mexico’s Cinco de Mayo holiday), see: A new look for Bizet’s “Pearl Fishers”: Zandra Rhodes in San Diego & S.F.

For the subsequent performance review, see: Castronovo, Siurina Lead Magical San Diego Opera “Pearl Fishers” – May 9, 2008

William’s note to our readers:   When I am off to Tulsa at the end of February 2008, my website colleague Tom will be in Santa Barbara for its opera season. Expect a Tom’s Tips for Santa Barbara as the next website post, followed by my Donizetti Quest review of San Diego Opera’s “Mary Queen of Scots (Maria Stuarda)” in mid-February. (See my  2008-09 Donizetti Quest schedule posted in the  January 2008 website archives.)

Tom’s  visit to the Central Coast will include  a Donizetti Quest of his own for Santa Barbara’s Love Elixir festivities.   Later, we will have  some of the still unposted reviews from San Francisco’s Fall 2007 season, including some for which cinemacasts are scheduled.