Les Pêcheurs de Perles, Opera Holland Park
Opera-lovers are being treated this summer to a taste of South Asian dance in Opera Holland Park’s new production of Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles. This tale of a love-triangle, betrayal and religious duty in an itinerant pearl diving community in ancient Ceylon was first performed in Paris in 1863, when Bizet was twenty-five (ten years before Carmen) and is known particularly for one celebrated tune, the friendship duet sung by a tenor and a baritone, ‘Au Fond du Temple Saint’ (sung here by Jung Soo Yun as Nadir and Grant Doyle as Zurga).
Odissi dance artist Katie Ryan has worked with the cast and three excellent dancers – Archana Ballal, Kali Chandrasegaram and Khavita Kaur – to bring classical odissi and South Asian folk dance to this production. The opera has been staged with quite a light, rather minimalist touch by director Oliver Platt and designer Colin Richmond, and it is beautifully sung by principals and chorus. Pulse was interested to see how well the dancing would be integrated into the performance. In fact it worked well, although one was made aware of how differently dancers and opera singers move. In the first act the dancers added a further visual dimension to the words and the music by dramatising the words sung by the villagers as they gathered to celebrate the start of the diving season. The dancers looked very natural as they brought in baskets of flowers and sat making garlands and they led the folk-dancing as celebrations ensued.
The devotional character of odissi dance suited the theme as the villagers prepared to welcome the veiled young virgin Leila (Soula Parassidis) chosen to pray for their safety as they dive, led in by the grave presence of the priest/elder Nourabad (Keel Watson). The choric and hieratic aspects, with a choreographed namaskaram, fitted the situation and the music. Leila is caught in a conflict between her vows to Brahma and chastity and her overwhelming and dangerous love for a hunter, Nadir. When she and Nadir are found out, the villagers prepare to execute them and the dancers sweep across the wide stage with a quite scary energy. They dance with strength and power, using wide, deep chaukas. It may not have invoked the downpour which coincided with the storm on stage, but the setting of Holland Park, with the cry of the peacocks in the background, gave unexpected authenticity to the events on stage.
Further performances on 9th, 11th and 13th July 2013.