Opera North is set to stage a new production of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers (1863) for the first time since 1996, the Leeds-based company has revealed.

Written more than 10 years before Carmen (1875), The Pearl Fishers tells the story of two men, Nadir and Zurga. Their vow of friendship is threatened when they both fall in love with the same woman, the priestess Leïla. Her own dilemma is the conflict between secular love and her sacred oath as a priestess.

As passion ignites and promises are broken, one man’s wild jealousy erupts into hot-blooded violence, threatening to destroy all their lives forever.

This semi-staged production opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on 16 May, with further performances on 25, 27 and 31 May and 2 June. It is directed by Matthew Eberhardt, with set designs by Joanna Parker and Peter Mumford setting the opera in an abstract, dream-like space in which pearls become a dual metaphor as both a symbol of global trade and exploitation and of precious memories and hidden desires.

The Pearl Fishers director Matthew Eberhardt commented: “Our presentation of The Pearl Fishers uses the act of pearl fishing as a metaphor; just as pearls are pulled up from the seabed, so are the memories of the central characters exposed. While the pearl represents beauty and desire, it also tells the story of obsession and greed. Our otherworldly space will allow our audience to sink deeper into this dark psychological story, allowing Bizet’s score to resonate with today’s audience.”

Matthew Kofi Waldren conducts a cast including German soprano Sophia Theodorides making her Opera North debut as Leïla. Maltese tenor Nico Darmanin returns to Opera North to sing Nadir, while Dutch baritone Quirijn de Lang takes the part of Zurga.

Following the performances at Leeds Grand Theatre Opera North will tour a concert version of The Pearl Fishers to concert halls across the north of England. It will visit Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall on 8 June, Sage Gateshead on 17 June, Hull City Hall on 24 June and finally Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall on 1 July.

Tickets for all performances are on sale now. They are available from Opera North, along with further information.

Written in the mid-19th century, The Pearl Fishers’ original setting in an exoticised, pre-colonial Sri Lanka was largely imagined by Bizet and his librettists and inauthentically represented in the opera itself. Staging this, and other orientalist operas, presents problems to modern companies.

In a series of events in partnership with the University of Leeds, Opera North will explore some of the issues, with films, music and seminars on the subjects of race, representation and authenticity.

Hosted in the Howard Assembly Room, films by female and global majority directors, including Claire Denis’s Beau Travail (1999), Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent (2015) and Ousmane Sembène’s seminal Black Girl (1966), offer a contemporary counterbalance to the opera.

The programme also features Carnatic Pearls, an intimate concert from singer Yarlinie Thanabalasingam, of South Indian and Sri Lankan classical music rooted in the region in which Bizet set his opera, presented in collaboration with South Asian Arts-uk.

A public seminar on the theme of ‘Telling operatic stories: ace, ethics and authenticity’ is planned for May. This is part of the Sadler Seminar series supported by the Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute. It will run alongside a day-long symposium and an exhibition at the University of Leeds Library drawing on Opera North’s extensive archive and demonstrating how representation on stage has changed during the company’s 45-year performing history.

More information on these special events is available from Opera North.



Opera North is to present a semi-staged new production of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers at Leeds Grand Theatre in May, before heading off on tour around venues in the north of England.