UTAH OPERA, The Pearl Fishers, Capitol Theatre, Jan. 17; through Jan. 25, tickets at 801-355-2787, 888-451-2787 or www.utahopera.org
Remembered today chiefly for his last opera, Carmen, Georges Bizet wrote about a dozen others in his brief 37 years of life, of which only The Pearl Fishers (Le pêcheurs de perles) has enjoyed some popularity in recent years.
Bizet’s 1863 opera, about two men whose friendship is destroyed through their love for the same woman, has finally received its Utah Opera premiere. At Saturday’s opening night performance, it became apparent that the star of the show was the soprano Andrea Carroll in the role of Leïla. The diminutive singer gave a bigger-than-life performance; her singing and acting were equally impressive as she brought passion and vocal prowess to her interpretation. She is a young singer to look out for; she has the potential of making a huge name for herself.
The other standout at Saturday’s performance were the six dancers. With remarkable choreography by Daniel Charon, artistic director of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, the dancers were a spectacular counterpoint to the singers.
Tenor Brian Stucki, a late replacement for the originally scheduled Philippe Talbot, did a credible job as Nadir, Leïla’s true love. He doesn’t have a powerful voice, but there is lyricism and expression in his singing. He gave a touching account of his Act I aria, “Je crois entendre encore,” that was filled with feeling and emotional depth. And he and the baritone Craig Irvin as Zurga did a passable job with their famous duet “Au fond du temple saint.”
When the opera opened, it seemed that the big disappointment of the evening would be Irvin. He didn’t appear confident as Zurga, his voice sounded weak and his acting was tentative. However, from his entrance late in Act II and throughout Act III, Irvin redeemed himself. He finally invested his role with conviction; his third act scene with Leïla in which she begs Zurga to spare Nadir’s life, was one of the highlights of the evening for its sheer dramatic power.
The Utah Opera Chorus had a bit of a shaky start, but they, too, rose to the occasion and ended up giving a strong performance, as one always expects them to.
The bass-baritone Derrick Parker as Nourabad was solid in his role. The pared down Utah Symphony under the baton of Carlos Izcaray (the newly appointed music director of the Alabama Symphony) played with expression and lyricism and the direction by Kristine McIntyre allowed the action to unfold at a good pace.