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The Pearl Fishers

English National Opera, London


Perfectly judged and utterly captivating

A thrilling tale of friendship tested by love, set on an exotic isle in an eastern sea, Bizet’s early masterpiece is a gem of 19th-century French opera, full of fabulous tunes, colourful orchestration and evocative choruses. With Tony Award-winning tenor Alfie Boe as Nadir, ENO’s new production is directed by outstanding film-maker Penny Woolcock following her explosive debut with John Adams’s Doctor Atomic at ENO and the Metropolitan Opera, New York. Conducted by rising Scottish podium star Rory Macdonald, who made his own impressive ENO debut last season with Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, it offers UK audiences a rare chance to discover what a pearl of a piece Bizet’s opera can be.

The Pearl Fishers features underwater cinematography, photography and animation created specially for the production by Fifty Nine.

Opened June 2010

English National Opera, London Coliseum

Penny Woolcock’s new production of Bizet’s orientalist romance opens with a stunningly beautiful tableau: through a combination of ancient theatrical and novel video trickery, the entire stage is transformed into an underwater paradise through which three swimmers are gracefully diving in search of pearls…
From the opening moments when three graceful aerialists plunge from on high to swim to the Coliseum’s sea bed, you sense that you’re in for a theatrical treat with Penny Woolcock’s new English National Opera production of Bizet’s youthful exotic oddity. And so it proves.
Dick Bird’s set is a cluttered shanty-town precariously perched on oil drums. Behind that are sensuous video projections (Fifty-Nine Productions) of underwater swimmers.
Penny Woolcock’s new production of The Pearl Fishers opens with a stunning coup de theatre. As the music of the prelude starts the curtain rises to reveal a beautiful projected image of light filtering through water. Through this shifting play of light we see an aerial ballet of three pearl fishers diving and surfacing with their trophies. The scene which, in less competent technical hands, could have been laughable is perfectly judged and utterly captivating… I hardly exaggerate when I state that the opening almost justifies the ticket price on its own.
The opening is stunning. One by one a group of divers – the pearl fishers of the title – plunge down through hazy blue tropical waters to search for pearls on the ocean bed and slowly rise back up to the surface. The effect is pure theatrical magic.
Woolcock opens her picturesque show with a breathtaking illusionary tableau: three (female) pearl-divers plunge into the briny deep like Ceylonese Rhinemaidens, with video of their air bubbles projected with immaculate timing onto a front scrim. Its two-minute duration is the highlight of the show.


Rory Macdonald

Penny Woolcock

Set Designer
Dick Bird

Costume Designer
Kevin Pollard

Lighting Designer
Jennifer Schriever

Video Design
Fifty Nine Productions

Movement Director
Andrew Dawson