Passion and rich coloration are the characteristics Hector Berlioz admired most in this opera, which was composed by twenty-five-year-old Bizet in less than three months. The action of Les Pêcheurs de Perles, Bizet’s real breakthrough in opera, is set in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. Zurga, who has just been proclaimed head of the pearl fishermen, meets his friend Nadir whom he has not seen for a long time. They used to be in love with the same girl, but to save their friendship, they both decided to forgo their feelings. But their love is rekindled. Nadir recognises a veiled priestess as Leïla, his boyhood love. Years before Carmen, Bizet explores the theme of the anarchy of love in a world that tries to control the natural impulses. This struggle between nature and culture, with echoes of Bellini’s Norma and Spontini’s La Vestale, is translated into a compelling score full of melodic inspiration and sophisticated exoticism that highlight the magic of the voice.
Future opera productions