In review: The Pearl Fishers at ENO Robert McPherson (Nadir) and Claudia Boyle (Leïla) in ENO's The Pearl Fishers, 2016. Photo by Robbie Jack.

In review: The Pearl Fishers at ENO

Jenna Simeonov

Penny Woolcock’s production of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers opened its second revival last night at English National Opera. The design by Dick Bird (sets), Kevin Pollard (costumes), and Jennifer Schriever (lighting) created a picture of contemporary Sri Lanka; by day it was alive and slightly claustrophobic, and by night it was layers-deep with stunning depictions of city lights and rolling waves. The image of divers, descending for pearls, was a lovely opening, beautifully done by eight aerialists.

Claudia Boyle (Leïla) in ENO’s The Pearl Fishers, 2016. Photo by Robbie Jack.

Irish soprano Claudia Boyle was a crystalline Leïla, boasting clear and smooth coloratura, and a lush, subtle act II aria that was a highlight of the night. She managed to show us two facets of Leïla, the dutiful and devoted priestess, and the real human being who succumbs to love and anger. Her scene with Zurga was the strongest of the night, and Boyle achieved an impressive arc from humility to pride.

Jacques Imbrailo (Zurga) and Claudia Boyle (Leïla) in ENO’s The Pearl Fishers, 2016. Photo by Robbie Jack.

Jacques Imbrailo was a handsome Zurga, with a warm sound and strong skills as an actor. His voice seemed to demonstrate the odd acoustics built into Bird’s set, going from upstage muffling to downstage brilliance. Zurga is a character who, by the end of the opera, holds few redeemable qualities (sure, he saved his friends, but he burned a village to do it). Yet Imbrailo was less a villain, and more a flawed man with the dangerous combination of power and impulsivity.

As Nadir, tenor Robert McPherson had heroic moments of hall-filling sound. Next to Imbrailo and Boyle, he was a stiff onstage, and he seemed to shift between singing and acting, without enough marriage of the two together. His “Je crois entendre encore” was a lovely moment of soft singing, yet he risked too much at times, and we craved more of his full sound.

Robert McPherson (Nadir) and Claudia Boyle (Leïla) in ENO’s The Pearl Fishers, 2016. Photo by Robbie Jack.

The ENO Chorus had a busy night, and they delivered solid, precise crowd scenes, full of sparkling individuality. With the booming James Creswell as Nourabad, they created a world that drew us in. Under maestro Roland Böer, the ENO Orchestra had a lush, rich sound; at times it overpowered, yet perhaps it was only a problem for the orchestra-level seats.

The company of ENO’s The Pearl Fishers, 2016. Photo by Robbie Jack.

It was difficult to stay immersed in this Pearl Fishers. Stiff acting, noisy set changes (smoothed over slightly with video projections by 59 Productions), and multiple appearances of stage crew in the wings kept us at arm’s length to this tale of friendship-versus-romantic-love.

Imbrailo’s Zurga and Boyle’s Leïla are the things to hear in this production, which runs until December 2. For full details and ticket information, click right here.

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