Pearlfishers at ENO in London – synopsis

Pearlfishers at English National Opera in London

Pearlfishers at ENO in London – synopsis

Composer and librettist

Music: Georges Bizet|Lyrics:Eugene Cormon och Michel Carré



Premiére: Théâtre-Lyrique i Paris den 30 september 1863.

Seen the performance on: 3.2.1989 ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA, ENO London


|Conductor: Yan Pascal Tortelier|Director: Philip Prowse/Sally Day|Set design: Philip Prowse|Costume: Imogen Claire|Lightdesign: Ian Sommerville|

Operaroles, voicetype och singerse

Roles Voicetype Singers
Zurga baritone Alan Opie
Nadir tenor Arthur Davies
Leila soprano Cathryn Pope
Nourabad bass John Tranter


The action takes place in Ceylon, on a sea-shore where the native pearl fishers come annually to dive for pearls. Zurga tells the fishermen they should choose a leader for the pearl fishing, and they unanimously swear loyalty to him.

Nadir returns to the island and is recognised by Zurga as his old companion. On their travels together they had both fallen in love with a priestess they saw in a temple at Kandy. They then promised each other for the sake of their friendship, to give up any thought of her and now hey re-affirm their friendship.

A priestess, chosen for her purity from all the temples of the island, arrives to preside over the ceremonies to protect the divers. Her singing is to charm the demons of the deep and to ward off the spirits of the storm. Although she is veiled. Nadir recognises her voice as that of the priestess he loves. Zurga imposes an oath of chastity upon her on pain of death; her reward for keeping the divers safe from harm will be their finest pearl.

Nadir listens as Leila begins her vigil of incantation. Finally he can resist no longer and calls up to her; she breaks off, answering his love.


Nourabad tells Leila that all the fishermen have returned safely and that she can now sleep until morning in the sanctuary. He stresses importance of her vow. As proof of her ability to keep her promise, she tells him how, as a little girl, she protected a fugitive and never revealed him to his pursuers. For his thanks, the man she saved gave her a necklace, which she wears to this day.

She falls asleep dreaming of Nadir. He makes his way into the sacred enclosure and they are rapturously reunited. He leaves her when a dolent storm breaks overhead but he is captured, and Nourabad denounces them both for sacrilege. Zurga tries to protect his friend from the fury of the superstitious natives, who demand his immediate death. Nourabad whips up their frenzy and Leila’s veil is torn from her. When Zurga recognises her as the priestess from the temple in Kandy, he sees hat Nadir has betrayed their oath to forget her and angrily demands death for the guilty couple.


Zurga’s anger has passed and he sadly reflects on Nadir’s fate. Leila pleads for him, saying that she alone was culpable. For the first time she sees that Zurga loves her. He relents, but his jealousy reawakens when she shows how much she loves his rival. He allows Nourabad to take her to the sacrificial pyre. Before she goes, however, she gives him a necklace to be sent to her mother. With a cry of recognition, he runs after them to save her.

The pearl fishers prepare for the ritual deaths of Leila and Nadir. At the last moment Zurga stops them with the news that their camp is on fire, and all their women and children are in danger. He reveals to the captives that it was he that Leila saved so many years ago, and that now he must repay his debt of gratitude for her bravery. He has himself fired the camp in order to give them a chance to get away and, gratefully, they make their escape.

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