The Pearl Fishers at the Lyric Opera: 10 things you should know before you go

The Pearl Fishers at the Lyric Opera: 10 things you should know before you go
The Pearl Fishers. Photo: Todd Roenthal Lyric Opera of Chicago ©Todd Rosenberg Photography

"The Pearl Fishers"  offers brilliant colors, broken vows, and beautiful music including opera’s most iconic tenor--baritone duet

If you live in Chicago and have not gone to the Lyric Opera, "The Pearl Fishers," now through December 10, is the perfect opera to begin. If you are a regular or even occasional opera-goer, this one's for you too.

Georges Bizet’s “Les pêcheurs de perles” (The Pearl Fishers, 1863), the older sister to his well known "Carmen" who came along 12 years later, is a wonderful opera.

And the Lyric Opera House with its breathtaking lobby filled with gilt cornices, sparkling Austrian crystal chandeliers, elaborately stenciled ceilings and massive 40-foot-high columns topped with carved capitals covered in gold leaf and its imposing grand double staircase leading to three more levels is the perfect place to see it.

If only for its sheer transcendent beauty, Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers has few rivals in the entire repertoire. The opera has been in the closet for most of its existence has come into its own since the beginning of the 21st century, receiving more productions in the last 15 years than it did in the previous 150 years. One could even argue that the opera was ahead of its time and is more suited to today's audiences.

The Lyric Opera is performing “The Pearl Fishers” for just the fourth run in its 63 years. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune )

If you've always wanted to go to the opera, but weren't sure what to expect, here's 10 thing you should know:

  1. Don't let the word opera scare you. The main difference between an opera and a play is that the words are sung instead of spoken
  2. No need to worry if you don't know French, Italian, German or whatever language is being sung. There are subtitles, known as Surtitles, in opera that are projected above the stage that translate the story for you.
  3. Opera begins with an Overture (from French ouverture, lit. "opening"). This is the instrumental introduction to an opera.
  4. The text or script of an opera that tells the story is called the Libretto.
  5. The music in the opera is known as the Score.
  6. "The Pearl Fishers" is a French opera.
  7. French opera often includes dance. Expect to see a lot of dance in "Pearl Fishers."
  8. Opera goers learn to accept “conventions” of opera which means that there are parts of opera that are not what you see in everyday life such as a dying character still singing strong until he draws his last breath.
  9. "The Pearl Fishers" tells a simple story. It is set in ancient Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) in the ruins of a Hindu temple. Zurga (baritone Mariusz Kwiecień), leader of the pearl fishermen, welcomes his long-lost friend, Nadir (tenor Matthew Polenzani). They reminisce about how years before their friendship was nearly ruined by a woman, but they vowed to remain true to that friendship. Unknown to Zurga, the veiled priestess Leïla (soprano Marina Rebeka ), now living in Ceylon, is the same woman who drove the two friends apart. When she is led into the temple by the high priest Nourabad (bass Andrea Silvestrelli) and Nadir sees her, his love for her reignites. Disastrous complications ensue.
  10. Some people avoid the opera because they think it is too expensive. Yes, Opera can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be. Tickets for "The Pearl Fishers" range from $20 to $249. Arriving late to the Opera, because of a Metra delay, I was seated in the Upper Balcony for the first 2 acts of "Pearl Fishers"--the $20 seats. I could see, hear and enjoy the show at this level and even found an advantage over the main floor seating. I could see inside the Orchestra Pit.

Tickets and performances

Performance dates for "The Pearl Fishers" are: December 10 at 2 pm; November 29, December 4 and 7 at 7:30 pm. For tickets and information call 312 827 5600 or go to

Approximate Running Time: 2 hours, 25 minutes with 1 intermission

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Filed under: Theater in Chicago

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