MOT dives deep and comes up with pearls

BTL Staff
By | 2018-01-15T17:42:56-04:00 April 19th, 2012|Entertainment|

By Michael H. Margolin

In 2004, Bizet’s exotic masterpiece “The Pearl Fishers” came to MOT dressed to kill with sets to match and a starry cast. This time out the rewards are even greater for the audience in this great work of French opera, transcending even Bizet’s “hit” “Carmen”
The sets, with vibrant oranges, yellows, reds and greens, like an overgrown hothouse of tropical plants, is a splendid background for the lush melodies of the composer. (The indefatigable Kendall Smith pulls out the stops with his gorgeous lighting scheme.)
Early in Act I the justifiably famous duet, “Au fond du temple saint,” sung by the two male leads, Nadir (tenor Noah Stewart) and Zurga (baritone Nmon Ford), becomes a leitmotiv and reappears several times; finally, at the opera’s end, plaintively as Leila (soprano Leah Partridge) and Nadir go off together while Zurga stays behind to face the wrath of the superstitious Ceylonese villagers.
The libretto is a pastiche of sentimental, coincidental and pagan ideas, hardly worth discussing. But, oh, the music – delicate, rousing and lyrical make this opera a must hear, a splendid showcase for singers. And this production a feast for the eyes.
The strength of an opera company like MOT is evident in this production. Just a few months ago, the conductor, Mark Flint, a regular on the podium, died. In his place, General Director David DiChiera reached into his bag of musical talent and pulled out Suzanne Mallare Acton, MOT’s chorus master and the originator of the Children’s Chorus.
She conducted the music with a sure grasp of the French genre, bringing out not only the big moments, but the lovely, lyrical qualities heard in low strings and in horns. The music sounded delicate and forte and genuinely French
One of the other strengths of MOT is in its casting.
Certainly, over the years, the company has brought us youthful singers ascending to stardom because DiChiera has found them and used them well. Such is the case with Noah Stewart, who debuted with a small role in “Nabucco” and has returned for several seasons in larger leading roles, triumphing in this opera, with his beautiful tenor voice floating effortlessly into a forceful, glowing top, a mature voice on its way to top tenordom. (When the opera was first performed at the Metropolitan, Caruso sang the role.)
So too with Leah Partridge, who was first cast in 2007’s world premiere of DiChiera’s “Cyrano.” Here she gives a wonderful vocal performance with beautiful runs and fine trills and modulating her voice to great effect.
For the third of the trio of leads, MOT has come up with another singer, like his co-stars, American: Nmon Ford has a dark baritone with vibrato that opens up to a pure, exalting top. (Both he and Stewart are examples of DiChiera’s attempts to promote singers of color, refusing to honor the color line still existing in opera today.)
Rhodes not so much costumes the three leads as she undresses them tastefully: The men are often topless and Leila wears a costume that lays bare her midriff, and it is a taut one. The men are well built and inspire admiration for their physical, as well as their vocal, tone.
Once you put together this kind of cast – including Andrew Gray’s fine bass (Nourabad) – there is the need for superb singing by the chorus, which has a major role. The singing has to be lyrical with that French legato which Acton nursed out of the orchestra. The chorus exceeds its past triumphs – if you remember the chorus of the Hebrew slaves in “Nabucco.” Again, Acton is responsible: If there were a prize for classical musician of the year, she would win it hands down.
Unlike more “traditional” grand operas, “The Pearl Fishers” begins with dancing, and the members of the Eisenhower Dance Ensemble were very good in the melange of modern movement and athleticism by John Malashock. Director Andrew Sinclair works well in the naturalistic style for the three leads, creating swirling patterns of movement and massed effects for the chorus; particularly effective was the scene with Leila and Zurga when he is enraged to hear that she loves his rival and attacks her sexually. The scene could have been vulgar or offensive, but Sinclair made it appropriate to the characters’ emotions.
So, if you wonder what makes a fine regional opera company, this production with its extraordinary musical talent and output, its impudent and beautiful production and its depth of creativity, tells all.

‘The Pearl Fishers’
Michigan Opera Theatre at Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway St., Detroit. 7:30 p.m. April 18, 20, 21 and 2:30 p.m. April 22. 150 minutes. $29-121. 313-237-SING. {}

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 25th anniversary.