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Georges Bizet’s Carmen so overshadows his other work–including an estimable symphony and some lovely incidental music–that relatively few people have had the chance to see his first major operatic effort, The Pearl Fishers. This story of star-crossed lovers in ancient Ceylon, written when Bizet was barely 25, was last presented by the Lyric Opera three decades ago (although a credible production in English was mounted by the Chicago Opera Theater in the late 80s). To be sure, The Pearl Fishers has its share of risible defects: its colonial view of Hinduism dates poorly; its hackneyed plot hinges on implausible coincidences; the pair of lovers are morbidly stiff when they’re not singing. But what makes it a guilty pleasure is the music, a resplendent, almost seamless tapestry of hypnotic eroticism. In fact, as some present-day musicologists have pointed out, the relationship between Nadir and Zurga, the two pearl divers who love the virginal high priestess Le•la, is just as ardent as the one that develops between Nadir and Le•la. The tenor-baritone duet that declares the two men’s friendship foreshadows the rapturous soprano-tenor duet that closes the curtains: both convey love threatened and reaffirmed. The director of this brand-new Lyric treatment is the French-born Nicolas Jo’l, who is gambling on three young North American leads: soprano Maureen O’Flynn, tenor Paul Groves, and baritone Gino Quilico, all making their local debuts. Conducting is Mario Bernardi, a Canadian maestro who’s handled the likes of Ben Heppner and Cecilia Bartoli. Saturday, Wednesday, and next Saturday, February 7, 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker; 312-332-2244. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Paul Groves/ Maureen O’Flynn/ Gino Quilico photos/ uncredited.