REVIEW: The Pearl Fishers: ENO

June 20, 2014


The Pearl Fishers by Georges Bizet

Directed by Penny Woolcock

The Pearl Fishers is a compelling tale of friendship tested by love. A tragic love triangle lies at the heart of the story, which explores themes of desire and rejection, longing and loss, and living within religious strictures.

Opening with some delightfully subtle aerialist work who convince the auditorium of their diving through water from the top to the bottom of the stage to search for pearls, this a triumph of theatrical illusion from 59 Productions. The dappled light, projected bubbles and skill of the wire performers combines into a dream like staging that was very impressive, extraordinary and magical.


Sophie Bevan’s voice is clear and strong and has a purity which enables her to effortlessly master some of Bizet more rapid demands, but her acting is somehow lacking and I wasn’t convinced of her faith as a priestess but there’s no doubting the strength of passion in her voice.  John Tessier as Nadir is fantastic his rich fresh tones expanding into the higher reaches and filling the ENO space and finding macho charm and physical grace in the careful faithfully clunky libretto from Martin Fitzpatrick, his voice is thrilling. George Von Bergen is good here too; cast as Zurga he deals with the intricacies of the plot well, changing with conviction from power to diaper, from anger to love and his voice allowing the whole breadth of emotional to bear witness.  Barnaby Rea as Nourabad was convincing and threatening and his voice carried the fury of judgmental piety well. The young cast did their best as breathing life into these two dimensional characters but it’s hard to wrestle with Bizet’s laziness of writing whilst immersed in it and the ending is disappointing.

Read the synopsis here:


Penny Woolcock has brought us an visual interesting Pearl Fishers of that’s there’s no doubt and although conductor Jean-Luc Tingaurd whipped the orchestra into a fury of musical sensation and colourfully energetic presentation of these musical contrasts the overall smoothness of effect is sometimes lacking in this race-to-the-end style. The storm scene, pivotal in the plot seemed sadly lacking as an event though the chorus and musicians gave their all, the billowing black silk sheets, so skilfully used for the arrival of Leila on a boat at night, seemed silly and unreal when representing the crashing, overwhelming seas. A pity that such majestic moments as the opening scenes weren’t continued throughout the production, it felt flatter in the second half and the ending seemed a half effort.


So although there were some great magical moments and from the digital  background and aerialist work, combining with the acting singing and projections were transporting and magical to behold this was often detracted from by over long set changes, which dragged on and on, and some very loud and distracting banging and clanking noises from the set being changed (during the singing)  and smoke machines hissing and such like, it’s unusual for such stuff to get in the way of the ENO’s usually flawless staging and I wonder if they were just having a bad night when I went along.

Watch the trailer here:

The Chorus, as usual in the ENO grab the better bits of Bizet by the throat and give it a purity of rendition that is utterly fabulous and although they don’t get up to much high jinks and the group acting is more W.I than Indain village their simple projection of mob emotions, adoration, hope, furious rage then fear is wonderful and I was delighted by them.

So overall a bit of a mixed bag, some stunning set pieces then some irritating set distractions, great voices but never really feel like they’re giving it all, and a fabulously wired chorus who are kept oddly static. Like the Storm in this production, it washed over me, was enjoyable and nice to hear but didn’t leave me beached, panting at the over whelming thrill of the night, most of the blame for this lack is Bizet’s though as his charcters simply don’t connect no matter how fine the singing.


If you’re a fan of Bizet’s rich and Rubanesque style then get along and see this production and visually it’s a feast. This would also be an easy and assessable opera for the first time visitor, as the clear narrative force supported by the occasionally perfectly executed flight of on stage fantasy makes this a very easy to understand production.

Over simplified for the purist though, perhaps

Until July 3

June 21,23 & 26 and July 1 & 3 at 7.30pm

June 28 and July 5 at 3pm

For more info or to book tickets see the ENO website here:


London Coliseum,

St Martins Lane,