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2003-2004



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The Peril of Pearls
(The Pearl Fishers)

by Tom Reed, Chorus

Act I

On a hot beach in Ceylon a bunch of choristers complain in high-speed French about how the burning sand keeps them constantly dancing. (“Sur la greve en feu”). A group of vacationing plumbers brags about its skill at breaking up clogs. (“Plongeurs audacieux”) Apparently dissatisfied with the local food, they decide to elect Zurga as chef, and then must hang around while someone searches for a virgin to pray for better weather. Meanwhile Zurga's childhood friend (with the depressing name of Nadir) shows up out of nowhere, and the two reminisce about a beautiful woman they once saw at a church fondue social. (“Au fond du temple saint”) At last someone locates a virgin, slaps her in a see-through burqa, and hauls her in to perform the weather ceremony. She turns out to be Leïla, the fondue girl. She likes the outfit and all the attention, but Zurga makes her swear to remain pure, and promises that if she remains chaste, she'll be given a pearl. Well, big deal! I mean, this is a pearl fishing village after all, so the whole town's awash in pearls. Why trade love for something she can get on any corner? But when she seems to balk, the crowd turns vicious. So she responds, “Je reste ici quand j'y devrais mourir!” ("Alright, already!") So they stick her on a rock overlooking the ocean, and the murderous crowd instantly gets religion. But trouble's brewing because Nadir's definitely in love.

Act II

Night falls, and Leïla's already bored. The high priest Nourabad's a real drag, and the townsfolk seem completely obsessed with the weather. She's starting to feel like a twelve o'clock girl in a nine o'clock town when Nadir decides to drop by the rock, and things start looking up. She shatters her vows on the spot. With that, last night's thunderstorm comes rolling in from St. Petersburg as part of this season's “Boats 'n' Bolts” theme. Clearly the gods prefer that Leila not get off her rock. The chorus mobs up the ramps for the chaotic storm scene, when someone (how shall I put this delicately?) cuts a grand fromage. The same exact thing happened during the dress rehearsal! Apparently someone can't handle sudden changes in the weather. And of course the more the crowd dashes about singing “O nuit de pouvante!”, the more it spreads. Somehow when Bizet wrote a thunderstorm scene for a crowd of Hindu pearl fishers, I don't think he envisioned a stage full of panicked choristers, dancers and supers muttering, “Oh Christ!” under their breath as they try to dodge a methane cloud. Nourabad blames it on Nadir and Leïla. This time the crowd turns really vicious. Zurga cites the two for disturbing the peace, which in this very conservative town comes with the death penalty. The mob thanks the heavens for blessing them with a double execution.

Act III

Zurga's having second thoughts - not about Leila - about Nadir. After all, they were once “tendr' ami”. Leila figures she can work the noble angle, so she pleads for Nadir's life instead of her own. But it backfires as jealous Zurga sings “Tu demandais sa vie.” (“Now you're really gonna get it.”) So Leila, trying out the pity angle, asks if she might return her necklace to her mother. It's the most darling little broach encrusted with real stage diamonds. But the second that Nourabad sees it he just has to have it, and rudely snatches it out of her hand. Zurga begins to think that maybe he's being a little harsh.

The townsfolk whip up a wild celebration as Nadir and Leïla are hauled in. It's the most fun this dreary burg has seen in ages. Everything's ready for the big execution. They wave their arms in the air and sing about going topless. (“Nos bras flopperont”) Zurga, ever a crowd pleaser, has just suggested that Leila shed her uncomfortable top (“Zurga la livre à vos bras irrités”) when the whole town suddenly goes up in smoke. The fire was Zurga's idea, thinking the citizenry could use a nice light-show. As the populace goes off to watch their homes burn down, Zurga decides to let Nadir and Leila escape, figuring he can provide the entertainment when the mob gets back.