Georges Bizet wrote 30 operas, but most of us can name only 2. Each of them happens to book-end the other 28.
The Pearlfishers was his first foray into this art form, and Carmen his last. Both were disasters when first performed in 1863 and 1874 respectively. It’s not too unreasonable to suggest that he need hardly have bothered with the inbetweeners, for they are rarely staged.
Bizet was another of those talented composers who was gathered early, suffering two heart attacks at the age of 36. He was a bon viveur, amusing and quick tempered, a child prodigy, and later a heavy cigar smoker, who fathered a child with his mother’s maid, and another with his wife. He went to his grave in Paris completely unaware of how popular Carmen would one day become.
The Pearlfishers also has fabulous music, but has not earned quite the same appreciation, thanks to its slightly unlikely plot. Two close friends in love with the same woman, a high priestess to boot, might sound typical opera fare, and true to operatic form, it does not end well, but the work is now best known for its famous duet between the two friends in which each affirms his loyalty to the other.
‘Au fond du temple saint‘ is now performed regularly as a stand-alone piece, and it is not hard too see why: it is a great tune. And if sung by two masters of their craft, the mingling of tenor and baritone voices tingles the spine. Most will be familiar with it, but maybe not this version, here sung by the Swedish lyric tenor Jussi Björling (sensational voice) and American baritone, Robert Merrill.
The sound quality may not be the best, but what a fusion of vocals this is! The dated black and white photograph accompanying the music looks like it might have once hung in your local Italian restaurant.
When the opera was first performed, one critic from Le Figaro observed ‘There were neither fishermen in the libretto nor pearls in the music’. I expect he thought he was being clever, but the passage of time has brought a different verdict.
click below –