Lyric Opera of Chicago Presents THE PEARL FISHERS Review – A love triangle in exotic Ceylon

Slider photos by Todd Rosenberg

The Lyric Opera brings to Chicago Les pêcheurs de perles

George Bizet is most famous for his opera Carmen, but 12 years before creating his most recognized masterpiece, he composed The Pearl Fishers. He was only 24 years old at the time and this beautiful opera didn’t get all the attention and credibility it deserved. Since its creation in 1863, this opera has gone through cycles of success and silence and it was not until recently that it started to be played with a constant frequency.

Lyric Opera of Chicago THE PEARL FISHERS
Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecień Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Vibrant colors and cheerful atmosphere

Vibrant colors make us forget the freezing cold and take us on a journey to a beautiful beach in Ceylon. With turquoise, orange and pink palm trees, the colorful setting is spiced up with cheerful music as the fishermen get together to celebrate and dance. During the celebration, Zurga (Mariusz Kwiecień) comes out of the crowd to remind everyone that a leader is needed and people choose him to be their king. Soon after, Zurga’s best friend, Nadir (Matthew Polenzani) the hunter, returns to the village after years of adventures. The two friends engage in a beautifully interpreted duet on how they fell in love at first sight with the same woman and they decided to sacrifice their love in order to protect their friendship. During this emotional reencounter, they reseal their friendship.

Slider photos by Todd Rosenberg

Lyric Opera of Chicago THE PEARL FISHERS
Marina Rebeka and Mariusz Kwiecień Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Religious people and mysterious Layla come on stage

Next, Nourabad, the high priest of Brahma, comes on stage with the religious people. But the really impressive moment is when Leila is brought in on a litter carried on shoulders by strong and handsome young men. This is an exotic appearance as she is wearing an ethereal brightly colored sari. The veil gives her a mysterious look and protects her from being seen, fulfilling this way with tradition.

Leila awakes Nadir's love

When Leila (MARINA REBEKA) is brought to the village, she recognizes Nadir and he also immediately reacts when he hears her voice. Their hearts recognize each other and as everyone leaves the temple, Nadir lays on the floor, remembering the woman he loved and thinking of the vow that tied him to his friend. Leila’s song puts Nadir under the spell of love and he calls her. Her song echoes in the public’s heart as it becomes more and more powerful as she knows he is there.

Zandra Rhodes “Zandrafying everything!”

The fishermen’s clothing is made up of ethereal saris, all in shades of blue and turquoise, inducing the public to easily identify them with the sea colors. This similarity is almost poetical as the whole decoration vibrates with the power of these colors. Furthermore, it is a way to visually show the strong connection between the people and the sea that sustains them.

In order to mark a distinctive difference between the religious people and the villagers, the costumes of the people from the temple are a striking mix of orange and shocking pink. But the effect is extremely attractive and makes it easy to identify the two groups, especially at times when they all coincide on stage. The person in charge of this exuberant collection is the iconic fashion designer Zandra Rhodes who really captures with her creations the spirit of India in a fresh and modern interpretation.

Photos by Todd Rosenberg

A magical night

The Lyric Opera stage becomes an Indian temple and a dark blue stared sky is magically represented. In this new setup, the high priest reassures Leila that she has nothing to fear as she is well guarded and could have a peaceful sleep. Leila and Nourabad start a musical dialogue as Leila tries to prove her commitment with her vow.

Nadir declares his love

Leila is alone, in a bed prepared for her by dancers playing with pillows, silky sheets and rose petals. Her singing is delicate and powerful at the same time, but things change when Nadir finds a way to Leila’s chamber and declares his love.

They really make the public vibrate with their feelings and feel the fear when the infuriated high priest Nourabad finds them. The rhythm increases, the music is more dramatic, there is action all over the stage and the audience is caught in the fast development of the plot.

Slider photos by Todd Rosenberg

Splendid performance of Kwiecien (Zurga)

Right before the curtain goes up we are informed that Kwiecien, the Polish baritone interpreting Zurga, is suffering from a cold, but that he would continue with his part in the opera. If he was in pain, he most certainly did not allow it to affect his splendid interpretation. He actually engaged in a beautiful and emotional duet with Leila, who was tries to reach Zurga’s heart and asks him to spare Nadir’s life.

This part is more intense and tension increases as the execution of the two lovers is about to take place. A storm starts and the villagers are gathering on stage and request justice. The choirs create a dramatic atmosphere and the audience is taken over by the music and the ballet parts. We can see how Zurga is fighting with mixed feelings and in spite of his health condition, he manages to impress the public with his interpretation.

Slider photos by Andrew Cioffi

Fire takes over the Lyric Opera stage

Lyric Opera of Chicago THE PEARL FISHERS
Matthew Polenzani, Marina Rebeka and Mariusz Kwiecień Photo by Todd Rosenberg

For the last part of act three, events keep escalating. The background transitions from dark blue to intense red and orange, representing the fire set by Zurga. Nadir and beautiful Leila escape thanks to Zurga’s actions. The stage is beautifully dressed up throughout the performance. The colors, the music, the amazing performance of the singers and of the orchestra make The Pearl Fishers a very attractive and fresh opera for any audience.

Approximate Running Time: 2 hours, 25 minutes with 1 intermission


Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.


Lyric Opera of Chicago THE PEARL FISHERS
Mariusz Kwiecień, Marina Rebeka and Matthew Polenzani Photo by Andrew Cioffi


Wednesday, November 22 at 2:00PM
Saturday, November 25 at 7:30PM
Wednesday, November 29 at 7:30PM
Monday, December 4 at 7:30PM
Thursday, December 7 at 7:30PM
Sunday, December 10 at 2:00PM


Lyric Opera
20 N. Upper Wacker Dr.
Chicago, IL. 60606


For more information and tickets visit the Lyric Opera website.
Or, call 312-827-5600


Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago

Laura Buciuman
Laura Buciuman Photo by Casey Mitchell

About the Author

Laura Buciuman is currently a Marketing Assistant at the Tourist Office of Spain in Chicago. Open-minded and curious, with a major in journalism and philosophy (North University, Romania) and two Master Degrees, one in English and Spanish for specific and business purposes (Alicante University, Spain) and another in International Tourism (EOI Business School, Spain), Laura is passionate about writing, storytelling, traveling, arts and culture. She has already lived in four different countries and visited many others and enjoys discovering different cultures. Reading, gastronomy, latin dances and yoga are some of her hobbies.

Editor's Note:  Click here to read more Picture this Post articles by Laura Buciuman

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