Edinburgh Grand Opera have a very good reputation of bringing high-quality productions to the Church Hill Theatre every year, combining professional solo singers, often young singers beginning their career, and an amateur, but often experienced, chorus and musicians. This year they have chosen Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, known universally for its great duet, In the Depths of the Temple, but rarely performed by professional opera companies. It was written by Bizet when he was only 24, and doesn’t compare well to his later more famous works, such as Carmen. It also has a very silly plot, but then that’s true of many good operas!
The setting of the opera, in some supposed exotic island, is always difficult for opera companies to reproduce, so director Kally Lloyd-Jones and designer Janis Hart wisely choose a simple set, with few objects, and use lighting and colour to symbolise scenes. This, combined with some dance and choreography, makes us focus on the interactions between the principals and the music. The music is very well provided by a small chamber orchestra of ten musicians, very well conducted by Alistair Digges. There is a very good chorus of over twenty experienced singers, and a good young dancer, Kirsty Pollock, who was also the very effective choreographer.
However, The Pearl Fishers relies on good singers above all, and fortunately Edinburgh Grand Opera has assembled a good cast. Ivor Klayman, the stalwart bass/baritone of the company, and a fixture of the Edinburgh music scene, gives a very convincing interpretation of the high priest Nourabad, and sings his arias very well. The priestess, Leila, is sung by Catriona Clark, one of Scotland’s best young singers, who gives a fine interpretation of her role, and sings very sweetly. Zurga, the leader of the island people, is very well sung by Scottish baritone Arthur Bruce, who has great melody and authority in his voice. Finally, the tenor, Roger Paterson, who sings Nadir, has a sweet tone, but occasionally sounds a little laboured when pushed at the top of the voice.
The big aria of the Pearl Fishers, In The Depths of the Temple, is sung quite well by Bruce and Paterson, and the theme is repeated twice, later on in the opera. Indeed, it is perhaps the only memorable aria of the opera, which may explain why the opera isn’t as well known as Carmen. However, there is much lovely music here, and Edinburgh Grand Opera deserve praise for bringing the opera to us. Given their limited budget, it is very well done, and indeed it is rather more enjoyable than English National Opera’s lavish production a few year’s ago. The packed audience at the Church Hill Theatre clearly agree, giving it a warm reception.