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Kennet Opera - The Pearl Fishers

11th to 13th November 2004.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Kennet's pearl of an opera

Kennet Opera: The Pearl Fishers, at The Corn Exchange, from Thursday, November 11 to Saturday, November 13

Known for its mesmerisingly beautiful duet, Bizet's opera was a colourful choice for Kennet Opera's latest production.

Most of the action takes place on the seashore, against a simple but effective background of fishing nets, and differing moods were achieved by inspired lighting.

The story tells how Nadir (Alexander Anderson-Hall) an old friend of fishermen's leader Zurga (John Milford) returns to the island. After their reunion the two agree to forget past quarrels over their love for Leila.

When a veiled priestess conies to pray for the fishermen, only Nadir recognises her as the woman who has caused the rift and, abandoning her vows, Leila (Fred Garner), and Nadir declare their love.

When, wildly jealous, Zurga realises the priestess' identity he condemns the pair to death, but later, overcome with remorse, helps them escape whereupon he is slain by high priest Nourabad (Stephen Bennett).

Alexander Anderson-Hall's delightfully musical tenor and acting ability made Nadir a most believable and dramatic young lover and there was silence as he and John Milford enchanted the audience with the famous duet telling of the woman they describe as a goddess.

As Zurga, John Milford was superb, his strong baritone always in command but never overpowering; this performer imbued everything he did, acting or singing, with emotion.

The role of the priestess is a difficult one. Not only has Leila to sing on her knees at her first entrance, but she is also covered for much of the opera by heavy veiling.

On top of this, Bizet gave her some exceedingly tricky music to sing throughout. Given all this to cope with, the lovely Fred Garner never mastered the presence and dignity of a high priestess, nor the passion and tenderness required of a lover.

Producer Janet Bennett's inspired use of children, weaving in and out of the attractively-dressed chorus, brought welcome movement - the audience loved their dancing.

The chorus voices were well balanced, but if it was a competition between the sections, I'd have to give the prize to the lads - there was occasionally a straining towards top notes from the sopranos.
In spite of this there was some magnificent chorus singing showing a mastery of the dynamics which must have taken much hard rehearsal.

Stars of the evening, however, must be accompanists Susan Proudfoot and Oliver Williams who played magnificently and sensitively throughout under the baton of musical director Paul Jeanes.