Saturday, May 10, 2008 | The woman onstage with pink, bobbed hair, platform shoes and a silver dress took a bow alongside the cast and directors of San Diego Opera’s production of “The Pearl Fishers.” And then she took several more as the audience went wild, deservedly so because she is Zandra Rhodes: British fashion designer extraordinaire and she designed the phenomenal sets and costumes for this production.
Visually stunning and sweet-sounding, “The Pearl Fishers” by Georges Bizet was a perfect choice as season-closer for San Diego Opera with its sumptuous, colorful costumes and winsome melodies. Set in exotic Ceylon, Rhodes’ innovative, fluid scenery seems set in motion: static trees invoke images of gently swaying palm fronds; background set pieces give the effect of softly rolling waves. To preserve her unmistakably unique style, crews actually recreated Rhodes’ felt-pen drawings for background sets. The costume design details are wondrous; look closely and you’ll see fantastic shell jewelry or jeweled bindis on cast-members. Brightly-colored costumes in luxurious fabrics added to the richness and perfection of the overall production.
As the pivotal Zurga, Malcolm Mackenzie vividly personified a good man tortured by jealous rage. His prolific baritone and wonderful amplification allowed him to vividly personify a good man tortured by jealous rage. Yet his boom never overpowered the other singers or orchestra.
As the hunter Nadir, tenor Charles Castronovo’s light, beautiful timbre was at its best during his moving aria “Je crois entendre encore.” And in this opera’s most famous aria, a duet between Zurga and Nadir, Castronovo and Mackenzie sang passionately and with masculine mellifluence.
It was sublime.
Soprano Ekaterina Siurina enticed, charmed and seduced as Leïla, the priestess whose love has come between Nadir and Zurga’s. Siurina’s gorgeous soprano had a warm, rounded-off tone with a dexterous coloratura. Her chemistry with Castronovo (they are married in real-life) onstage sparked with palpable emotion and added sparkle to the production.
Brazilian bass José Gallisa’s deep, majestic voice worked well in his role as Nourabad. Gallisa always makes a favorable impression — he was seen here in last month’s “Aida” and in last season’s “Samson and Delilah.”
Karen Keltner’s conducing was exactly what I’ve come to expect from her: totally solid in every way. She’s neither mannered nor is she idiosyncratic. That’s a good thing!
Outstanding choreography by John Malashock showcased the talented dancers (the dance with the animal costume-heads was spectacular) and the San Diego Opera chorus gets better with each production. Inspired stage direction by Andrew Sinclair completed the package; creating lovely tableaus within Rhodes’ sets.