Les Pêcheurs de perles
Opera in three acts by Georges Bizet (1838-1875)
Libretto by Michel Carré and Eugène Cormon
In French with German and English surtitles. Duration 2 H. 30 Min. incl. intermission after 2nd act after approx. 1 H. 30 Min. Introduction 45 min before the performance.
Les Pêcheurs de perles
Les Pêcheurs de perles
The pearl-fishers, who are about to go diving in dangerous waters, are boosting their confidence by singing. Zurga urges them to swear unconditional loyalty to a leader whom they are to elect. The fishermen assure Zurga that he is the one whose orders everyone must obey. Initially unnerved by the arrival of a stranger, Zurga recognises him as his childhood friend, Nadir. The latter declares that he wishes to return to the community that he has avoided for a long period in order to challenge fate in the forests. Once he has officially welcomed Nadir and the fishermen have gone back to work, Zurga tries to find out whether Nadir has returned as a friend or a rival. On a trip to Candi together, both of them had fallen in love with the sight of a priestess and fallen out with each other. At the last minute, reason demanded that they renounce their love of this woman for the sake of their friendship, and they swore to each other never to see her again. Nevertheless, they had subsequently parted company. Zurga assures Nadir that he has kept his oath and expunged the memory of that day. Nadir for his part admits that, although he will never forget this woman, he has kept away from her. They seal their reunion by renewing their pledge to preserve their friendship to the death. Nourabad, the high priest, announces the arrival of the priestess requested for the protection of the fishermen. Heavily veiled, she presents herself to the expectant crowd and is asked by Zurga to make a vow of chastity. If she breaks it, she risks death. Nadir’s compassionate interjection attracts the priestess’s attention, and for a moment she is disconcerted. All the same, she swears to devote her life to the pearl-fishers. While Nourabad leads her to her intended place of abode, Nadir is agitated by the memory of the priestess he loved in Candi. For one moment he believed he had seen her again: contrary to his assurances to Zurga, at the time he followed her and listened furtively to her singing. Once again, he buries his dream of an impossible love. The pearl-divers among the fishermen are getting ready; the priestess’s song fills the air. Now Nadir is certain that he is once again hearing the voice of the woman he loves – Léïla. In an unguarded moment he approaches her and promises to protect her. Léïla, who has already recognised Nadir as the man who captured her heart in Candi, happily abandons herself to her song, which is now devoted to Nadir.
Having done her work, Léïla should now also rest. Nourabad reminds her that she must always remember her oath not to allow any man near her. She tells him that she was already aware of the meaning of an oath as a child. One evening a fugitive entered her hut and begged her to hide him, as he was being persecuted. She helped him and kept his hiding place a secret, although his persecutors threatened her with a knife. Thus she was able to save his life. As a token of his gratitude he left a necklace with her, asking him to keep it in honour of his memory. When Nourabad retires, Léïla, calmed, falls asleep amid thoughts of Nadir, whom she knows to be close by. Nadir seizes the opportunity to steal to Léïla during the night. Aghast and in fear of his life, she implores him to leave. Nadir believes she is rejecting him and accuses her of not having understood his heart. Léïla, however, replies that she had indeed noticed him when he secretly listened to her singing. Her heart is ready to follow him. Overjoyed, Nadir enfolds her in his arms. At last they can acknowledge their love. However, Nourabad returns unseen and condemns them for perjury. The fishermen summoned by Nourabad demand the death penalty for both of them. Zurga intervenes and orders by virtue of his office that Nadir and the unknown priestess must be spared and allowed to leave. When Nourabad forces Léïla to look at him, Zurga also recognises the once beloved priestess of Candi. He feels betrayed by Nadir and in turn demands revenge. Both are to be punished by death at daybreak.
Zurga regrets having been driven by anger to condemn his friend to death. Léïla is brought to him. She begs him to spare Nadir’s life and only to kill her. Zurga’s jealousy is reawakened when he realises how much Léïla loves Nadir, and he signs the death warrant for both of them. Composed, Léïla turns to leave, but before she does so she hands Zurga the chain about which she had told Nourabad. Shocked, Zurga realises that Léïla is the girl who saved his life. The pearl-fishers impatiently await the moment to be able to avenge themselves for the priestess’s betrayal. Without restraint, they allow their aggressions free rein. Nadir and Léïla await death. Before the sentence can be carried out, Zurga calls a halt. He declares himself guilty of everything that has happened and accuses himself of having failed as a human being. Exploiting the crowd’s confusion, he helps Léïla and Nadir to escape. The pearl-fishers now direct their fury against him.