Feb 13, 2009

Pêcheurs, Montreal 2008 & Seattle 2009

As the 2008-09 season continues, two other runs of Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles were performed, in Montreal in November and Seattle some weeks ago. Both runs were recorded live to be radio broadcast.

Being so focused on the musicality of a language and its diction, one could argue it's hardly a surprise if my favorite version of the two is the Montreal one, based on the obvious fact people from up there, thus singers, are born in a bilingual city that provides them with the knowledge required to sing in French.

Yet the Montreal run was also amazingly well conducted, and the cast was not just a good-French speaking cast. The Seattle run on the other end is less successful, as it suffers mainly from an astray and swamped conductor, with no clear understanding of the score, with some of the same flaws as heard in Chicago early on.

Both runs however presented the original 1863 version with the revised 1893 duet "Au fond du temple saint" from 1893. An interesting musical choice that is true to Bizet but also corrects the less dramatic original version of the famous duet in Act I.


Leila - Mary Dunleavy
Nadir - William Burden
Zurga - Christopher Feigum
Nourabad - Patrick Carfizzi
Gerard Schwarz, conductor
Seattle Opera Orchestra and Chorus

Audio Broadcast of the January 17, 2009 performance

Gerard Schwarz's conduction: C-
William Burden's Nadir: C
Christopher Feigum's Zurga: C
Mary Dunleavy's Leïla: B
Patrick Carfizzi's Nourabad: D  

Overall performance: C

One hardly thinks to link Gounod's Faust and Les Pêcheurs, with what seem perfectly valid reasons, relying mainly on the intensity of the libretto and the exotism of Bizet's score. Yet Gerard Schwarz thought it would be a good input to have the orchestra play as solemnly as if they were playing Faust.

It always amazes me how some conductors aren't interesting in the context a piece was created in, and assume a century and a half later they know best, when the only thing emerging from their conduction is their obscurantism. Hardly a compliment.

The musical execution also lacked too many ingredients to be decent. The brass, the flutes and the percussion sections were the weakest elements of an overall uninspired orchestra.

The chorus had another impact: vibrant, disciplined, and musically sharp (a claim to the fact diction is not nearly as important as understanding the musicality of a language).

I was not really receptive to William Burden's Nadir. He's a bit short on emotions (especially on the introduction and aria "Je crois entendre encore"). He's portraying a Nadir that has more to do with style and dandy than hunting in the woods alone (what he's supposed to be about, according to the libretto). His top notes were quite weak also.

Christopher Feigum's Zurga is decent yet frail and lacking leadership. He was also leaning on the dandy side a bit too heavily at times (such as on the opening aria of Act III, "L'orage s'est calmé").

Mary Dunleavy portrayed a good Leïla, although I have to report some tempi problems in her big aria, "Me voilà seule dans la nuit".



Leïla - Karina Gauvin
Nadir - Antonio Figueroa
Zurga - Phillip Addis
Nourabad - Alexandre Sylvestre
Frédéric Chaslin, conductor
Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal
Chœur de l'Opéra de Montréal

Audio broadcast of the Nov.3, 2008 performance

Frédéric Chaslin's conduction: B+
Antonio Figueroa's Nadir: B
Phillip Addis's Zurga: C
Karina Gauvin's Leïla: A-
Alexandre Sylvestre's Nourabad: D
Overall performance: B+

The Montreal run is on a whole different level - and as a matter of fact, this performance I will actually keep.

The conduction of Frédéric Chaslin is clearly the main reason for its success, as he managed to provide an interesting and original view on the score. There's a quite unexpected swinging touch to his reading. Some kind of a groovy feel to the music (especially in the scenes where the chorus is singing) that is very distinctive and that also works pretty well, in a strange yet fascinating way that only truly comes to light when totally immersed in the performance. How refreshing for someone like me who's kind of obsessed by this particular opera to still be moved by a conductor.

Karina Gauvin is pretty interesting as well. She's not the typical Leïla at all, with her dark and low voice. As a result, she portrays a more real character, stripped of all the stupidity and naïveté that are usually humongous. Clearly a charming Leïla.

Antonio Figueroa, that I saw in this role I saw in Avignon in 2007, is turning into a very fine and moving Nadir, with the finesse and tenderness required. His technique needs little improvements here and there (especially on his high notes where he lacks confidence), hopefully he'll continue working on the role.

Phillip Addis as Zurga doesn't display the authority and leadership he should, mainly because he abuses of vibratos, extensively, which makes me question his ability to keep a note for more than a mere second. He also lacks the strength that makes a great Zurga. His expressivity (interesting otherwise) adds to the previous in portraying a weak and emotional Zurga (at least, it's a new take on the role).

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