The N.C. Opera’s Production of The Pearl Fishers Features Divine Costumes and Stupendous Sets

Georges Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers premiered in Paris in 1863. The story is set in ancient Ceylon; and the action revolves around two fishermen, Nadir and Zurga, played by John Bellemer and Jarrett Ott in the current North Carolina Opera production. Zurga has just become the village chief, and Nadir has just come back to town after a long absence.

Nadir and Zurga have not spoken in many years; and we learn that the reason for their break was a bitter competition for the same woman, Leila (played by Talise Trevigne). The two vow never to let another woman come between them, and they quickly reconcile. Little does Zurga know that the only reason Nadir has come back to town is a rumor that he heard that Leila was also in town. Unfortunately for both men, Leila has made a vow of celibacy in order to become a Brahman priestess.

Bizet wrote the opera when he was in his early 20s, and he had yet to hit his stride creatively. His inexperience shows. The storyline is very thin and quite slow. The show clocks in at around 2.5 hours, necessitating two intermissions and a pause for a scene change.

Unfortunately, there is really no dramatic tension to leave the audience thirsting for a return from break. Although Bizet likely felt that the story would be carried by Nadir’s longing for Leila, since her character is veiled for the first half of the show, it is hard to connect to her character or to appreciate his ardor. And Bizet’s finale has a slapdash quality, as if he simply could not figure out how to end the story, so he just threw several odd twists to the storyline and started a fire in order to quickly bring it to an end.

All that said, none of this is the fault of the troupe at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. In fact, there is a ton of wonderful goodness in the show! Where do we begin?

The costumes were truly divine, a kaleidoscope of rainbow colors. The cast were all exotic birds, dancing and singing across the stage. Twisted turbans, balloon pants, and sandals transported the audience to the tropics in an instant. We tip our hats, er, turbans, to Martin Lopez for the costume design.

The sets were nothing short of stupendous. The attention to detail was superb. All muted greens, vines, ancient sculptures and decaying monuments set the tone for an ancient story in an ancient civilization. Kudos to J. Michael Wingfield and the Sarasota Opera, which was willing to share the sets for the production. It was a feast for the eyes.

This being opera, there was amazing singing. Boy, was there amazing singing! The voices of the male leads, John Bellemer (Nadir) and Jarrett Ott (Zurga) blended perfectly and their range was jaw-dropping. Talise Trevigne’s Leila was also superb. We wished that she did not have to spend so much time under her veil, because she was just as lovely as her voice. Even talented local singers got into the act and formed the backup choir and villagers.

Is that enough to lure you to the show? If not, we will mention that you also get to enjoy some of the ballerinas from the Carolina Ballet dancing amongst the villagers.

Still need another reason to go? Well, the night that we attended, the symphony was at the top of its game. Yes, not only do you have live theater and opera, but an evening of symphony as well! All for one low-low price!

We love that the North Carolina Opera is willing to take risks. This is a relatively difficult production to present to modern crowds. With risks come great rewards, and we applaud the North Carolina Opera’s willingness to offer a new show. Truly, how many times can one watch Carmen, which the Carolina Ballet will stage on May 18-21 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium? It’s fun to step out of the expected and to tell a new story.

Sung in French with English subtitles, this show has many difficulties, but oh so many rewards. We look forward to seeing next year’s offerings. Season tickets are now on sale, and we know that we will be in attendance.

SECOND OPINION: April 29th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Ken Hoover:; and April 29th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks:

The North Carolina Opera presents Georges Bizet’s THE PEARL FISHERS at 3 p.m. April 30 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601. TICKETS: $26.25-$61.68. BOX OFFICE: NCO Box Office: 919-792-3853. Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or

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Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.