Virginia Opera will dazzle with company premiere of Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers," Oct. 12 & 14

Virginia Opera performs company premiere of Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers" at George Mason University's Center for the Arts on Oct. 12 & 14.

Friendship. Love. Jealousy. Loyalty. Religious duty. And a passionate love triangle between two lifelong friends and a mysterious woman. 

You'll find all of this and more when Virginia Opera takes the stage at George Mason University's Center for the Arts this weekend to perform Bizet's tempestuous tale, "The Pearl Fishers." The opera performs on Friday, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. A pre-performance discussion will take place 45 minutes prior to the performance on the Center's Grand Tier III. 

Premiering more than a decade before “Carmen,” this early work by Bizet is evidence of his great musical gifts and serves as a prelude to the brilliant work that followed in his career. Set in a fishing village in ancient Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), two pearl fishermen, Zurga and Nadir, whose friendship was tested years earlier over their romantic obsession with the same beautiful stranger, declare their brotherly bond in one of Bizet’s best-loved duets, “Au fond du temple saint” (the popular duet was even performed at the composer’s own funeral). But their long lost love, Leila, soon returns as a mysterious priestess, and when her true identity is revealed, their deadly rivalry is, quite literally, reignited.

A company premiere, “The Pearl Fishers” is the second installment in Virginia Opera’s new “First of Firsts” series, which was conceived to introduce new productions into the company’s repertoire.

“Virginia Opera’s ‘First of Firsts’ initiative kicks off the season with a gorgeous melody-filled opera that’s being performed by the company for the first time in its history,” said Virginia Opera’s Artistic Advisor Robin Thompson. “This brand new production of ‘The Pearl Fishers’ is being custom-built for Commonwealth audiences. A truly exceptional experience awaits!”

Internationally acclaimed conductor Anne Manson and Emmy-nominated director Tazewell Thompson make their Virginia Opera debuts with this production. Praised by The New York Times for her “significant achievements in the international opera world,” Manson is the first female conductor engaged by Virginia Opera, and she is one of only three women to have been appointed music director of a leading American symphony, having served with the Kansas City Symphony from 1999-2003.

Thompson has produced and directed more than 60 opera and theater productions, including the New York City Opera’s 2002 production of “Porgy and Bess,” which was televised on “Live from Lincoln Center,” and earned Emmy nominations for Best Classical Production and Best Director. In addition to directing, Thompson is an accomplished playwright; “Mary T. & Lizzy K.,” his new play about the unlikely friendship between Mary Todd Lincoln and seamstress/freed slave Elizabeth Keckly, will receive its world premiere at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. in spring 2013.

“My collaborators and I are approaching ‘The Pearl Fishers’ with the passion, precision and loving care that I’m sure the young genius Bizet did so long ago,” Thompson said. “It is a world where the erotic, the indulgent, the uninhibited dance boldly with rituals, taboos and superstitions that dare not be transgressed; a dreamland where the fantastical, the ecstatic, the rhapsodic co-exist recklessly. It is a veritable feast for eye and ear where the imagination can, and should, take flight.”

This production of “The Pearl Fishers” will feature soprano Heather Buck as the mysterious virgin priestess Leila, following her acclaimed performance in Virginia Opera’s production of “Orphée” earlier in 2012. Starring as the two pearl fishermen and Leila’s rival suitors are tenor Chad A. Johnson as Nadir, and baritone David Pershall as Zurga. Bass Nathan Stark, making his fifth Virginia Opera appearance, assumes the role of the wise village elder Nourabad. The orchestra for this production is provided by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. The opera is sung in French with English supertitles. 

Tickets to "The Pearl Fishers" are $44, $72 and $86 on Friday and $48, $80 and $98 on Sunday. For tickets or more information, please visit cfa.gmu.edu or call 888-945-2468 or visit the Center for the Arts box office, open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and before the performance. 

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