The Pearl Fishers

Seattle Opera at McCaw Hall

Through Jan 24.

When Georges Bizet agreed to compose The Pearl Fishers, it was not for love of the project but for the money. The libretto, considered subpar even by its authors, depicts a story loosely following the life of Britney Spears—supposed virgin swears chastity, promptly gives in to the temptations of "true love" (in this case, the great hunter Nadir), and bears the consequences (a death sentence).

The Pearl Fishers is obviously an early piece, influenced in large part by Charles Gounod, Bizet's mentor. Bizet hadn't developed his own voice yet, and by the time he did—just months after he finished his masterpiece Carmen—a heart attack did him in. It's not that The Pearl Fishers is not beautiful; it just doesn't ring with the same artistic freedom. It is introspective where Carmen is seductive, plaintive where Carmen is playful. But still worth seeing for its music. And for its sexual innuendo: the title, the posters (featuring a woman who is arguably fishing for her own pearl), and the scene where Leila succumbs to seduction, set with large pillars and burning flames.

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The not-so-wholesome Leila is played on off-nights (sadly, the only performance I was able to attend) by Larissa Yudina, who sings in a pristine soprano. Her voice is clear and precise, but she's catastrophically clumsy. (She kneels to be crowned priestess and nearly topples over; in the few scenes where her character dances, Seattle Opera substitutes the petite and lissome Lisa Gillespie.)

The production has some visual gems. In the first moments of the show, music wafts from the belly of the orchestra pit and the curtain opens. The stage appears—with the help of dappled lighting and a scrim—to be submerged in water. A female form, suspended by invisible wires, emerges from the upper corner of view and descends. Traces of light speckle her body, hints of sunlight refract through the surface of water. She uncovers a glowing pearl and returns upward to surface with her treasure. recommended