Les pêcheurs de perles

Stanislav Trofimov, (Nourabad), Plácido Domingo (Zurga), Aida Garifullina (Leïla), Riccardo Minasi (Conductor) & Javier Camarena (Nadir), (Photo: © Salzburger Festspiele / Marco Borrelli)

Les pêcheurs de perles, opera in three acts by Georges Bizet to a libretto by Eugène Cormon and Michel Carré. It was premiered on 30 September 1863 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. Concert performance by the Salzburger Festspiele in the Grosses Festspielhaus on August 23, 2018.

Leïla: Aida Garifullina
Nadir: Javier Camarena
Zurga: Plácido Domingo
Nourabad: Stanislav Trofimov

Philharmonia Chor Wien
Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg
Conductor: Riccardo Minasi


A performance of somewhat “historic dimensions” took place at the Salzburg Festival on August 23rd, 2018. George Bizet’s rarely played The Pearl Fishers was performed in a concert version.

On January 21st, 1964, a young tenor celebrated his 23rd birthday by debuting in the role of Nadir in The Pearl Fishers in Tel Aviv. The critics were full of praise for his “genuine bel canto” and his “soft, lithesome, lyric voice”. 54 years later (!) the very same singer celebrated another anniversary on stage, again singing in The Pearl Fishers. This time, singing the baritone part of Zurga marked Plácido Domingo’s 150th operatic role.

Just facing those facts shows the historic dimensions of this performance. How often does this happen in our fast-moving times? How many singers can claim such a huge repertoire and such a long, successful career?

The voice has changed over these 54 years, of course, but it has not lost anything of its fascination. When one hears Domingo’s fondly building up “columns” of rich sound, culminating in powerful, strong, and impressively long passages, one can only wonder how he could defy nature for so long and keep his voice still intact over such a long period. That well-known “ring” is still there and it makes his voice unique and unmistakeably “Plácido”, albeit in a different pitch of voice. His experience and technique make up for any (possible) uncertainty in this new role, and his convincing and touching acting, even in a concert version, make us forget that this 77 years old Zurga is supposed to be almost as young as Nadir, the tenor in the opera.

In Salzburg, this was Javier Camarena, a 1976 born Mexican tenor. Camarena has a beautiful, lyric voice with easily sung strong top notes, yet based on a warm “bronze” colour, a joy to listen to. He has frequent and highly acclaimed appearances in major opera houses around the world, but still he was understandingly nervous sharing the stage with a “living legend” in front of the more than 2000 persons’ Festival audience.

A moment of weakness during his aria “Je crois entendre encore” showed this, but otherwise he gave a wonderful performance. He has a very appealing personality and “acts” with passion, heart and soul.

Leila was sung by the Russian soprano of Tatar origin Aida Garifullina. While her pretty looks are perfect for playing an exotic princess, her singing was less successful. She had great coloratura moments, well-placed notes strung together like a pearl necklace, and a beautiful middle range, but towards the heights, her voice tends to become rather thin and sounds strained. We could not tell, if an occasionally audible “vibrato” was intentional or not. Besides, we missed emotional participation in her performance.

Stanislav Trofimov was High Priest Nourabad. He has a full, rich and warm bass voice that sometimes resembles a bass-baritone. He gave a flawless performance, but we had wished more solicitousness in his case, too. Perhaps, it was difficult to fulfil, because he was standing on the opposite side of the stage, and the conductor’s position restrained the direct eye contact with the other singers.
Whatever it was, with “baritenor” Plácido Domingo on stage every singer had a role model of whose book they could take a leaf out in many ways, and we are sure they appreciated that chance.

Conductor Riccardo Minasi was fun to watch. He was very involved in the music, was jumping, waltzing and waving on the podium. He mastered the Mozarteum orchestra very accurately. However, we just missed fine colour nuances in his conducting. Sometimes, he brought the orchestra to a volume that sounded more Wagnerian than “Bizetanian”. The sound intensity seriously competed against the singers.

A special praise goes to the Philharmonia Chorus Vienna and their chorus master Walter Zeh. They gave a wonderfully balanced, impressive and highly accurate performance and do deserve some extra kudos for their remarkable achievement.

This “historic” performance will be on Austrian Radio Ö1 on August 25th, 7.30 p.m. A second (maybe even yet better after getting rid of the “premiere’s stage fright”) performance will take place on August 26th, and we are eagerly awaiting it.

Gabi Eder (Published on 24/8/2018)


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