Les pêcheurs de perles - Royal Opera House, 4 October 2010
Even though the orchestra was on the stage instead of in the pit, Covent Garden felt like a righted ship last night. Following a lacklustre opening month in London with the best part of the ROH touring Japan, there returned a deeply satisfying sense of business as usual. Even though this was only a concert performance, and a less than perfect one at that, Pappano’s hand on the tiller lent an energy and sense of purpose so far absent.
The concert presentation was entirely justified by his revelation of atmospheric detail and surprising innovation in Bizet’s scoring. OK, so the opera’s musically patchy and it doesn’t hang together dramatically, but without the distractions of the laboured and unbalanced plot its real strengths are more apparent. Generally sounding about as French as pizza and no worse for it, Pappano’s sweeping phrasing and instinct for theatrical gesture gave scintillating support for the singers and a third act worthy of Puccini.
The singing was more questionable. The cast could barely be faulted for technical skills, but apart from Raymond Aceto’s imposing and briefly-heard Nourabad, none satisfied entirely on other counts.
John Osborn made his Covent Garden debut as Nadir. He sang nimbly and accurately, with exquisitely sustained tone in mezza voce, but his brash, nasal tone elsewhere was unappealing, and made worse by Met-scaled over-projection. He might come across better once he learns to size his voice to the space.
Nicole Cabell certainly had all the notes, including the trills. But until her voice settled into full bloom in the third act, it could have removed burnt-on crud from saucepans. Her laboured phrasing and coquettish manner suggested little of the the simple and noble Léïla. Nice frock though, and bonus points for the classy earrings.
I can listen happily to Gerald Finley in anything, but he was simply miscast as Zurga. He did his best, but this role needs top notes he just doesn’t have, not the patrician elegance he oozes in abundance.
It didn’t help that none of the cast could manage without scores, breaking what little spell they wove.
And as if there’s not enough to complain about at the ROH, how about taking a pop at the subtitles for a change? Now I know subtitles aren’t supposed to render the libretto word-for-word, but they seem to be getting ever more minimal.
Granted, Les pêcheurs de perles isn't exactly poetry, but you don't even have to understand French to realise there’s more to “Je frémis, je chancelle!- De son âme cruelle - Hélas! que vais-je obtenir? - Sous son regard, l'effroi vient me saisir - De son âme cruelle que vais-je obtenir?” than what we got – “I fear him”. Translation, or merely summary? And that's not an isolated example. At least it was spelled right.