Ceylon was the exotic setting for the opera The Pearl Fishers. It premiered in Paris in 1863; its composer Georges Bizet was only 24. It was not a hit. Twelve years later, before his untimely death, he composed Carmen. Neither was successful while he was alive but Carmen became a spectacular and enduring success. On the other hand, The Pearl Fishers has not been much performed in the world’s opera houses since the end of the 19th century.
This current season at the New York Metropolitan is seeing the first performances of The Pearl Fishers for 100 years; the 1916 performances starred Caruso but it has taken until this year to come back to that stage. Although Covent Garden mounted a production in 2010, Lloyd George was prime minister when it had last been presented. But in Australia we’ve loved it. From this week the Opera House will see yet another new production, the third in as many decades. The Melbourne opening will be on May 7.
There are theories for this opera’s Aussie popularity but they all come back to the famous male duet, ‘In the depths of the temple’, in which the tenor and baritone swear undying, indivisible loyalty to each other. Some believe it embodies the spirit of Australian mateship; certainly Peter Weir thought so when he used it to such effect in Gallipoli. In my childhood, it was played every week by request in the ABC’s Hospital Half-Hour.
Whatever, we love a great tune.
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