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September 22, 2008

WNO offers prismatic 'Pearl Fishers'

Of the many operas that aren't widely recognized as masterpieces, few exert as much interest and appeal as Bizet's The Pearl Fishers (Les Pecheurs de Perles). As the current issue of Opera News points out, this supposedly second-rate piece coincidentally is turning up all over the country this season, including Washington National Opera. That company, which last performed The Pearl Fishers in 1993, brought it back to the stage Saturday night at the Kennedy Center in a widely traveled staging that originated at the San Diego Opera with sets and costumes by Zandra Rhodes, the famed British fashion designer favored by Princess Diana, among other celebrities. It proved to be quite the visual treat, full of hot '60s colors amid simple fairy-tale scenery.

It all fell pleasantly on the ears, too, thanks especially to tenor Charles Castronovo as Nadir, whose dulcet tone caressed the exquisite aria Je crois entendre encore to telling effect. And he held up his end of things quite expressively in the opera's one huge hit, the tenor/baritone duet Au fond du temple saint, with Trevor Scheunemann, who also offered a good deal of vocal warmth and finesse throughout the evening. Soprano Norah Amsellem, as Leila, added her own share of limpid sounds to the engaging production, which also featured beautifully molded work by the chorus and some spirited dancing. I'll post some more detailed thoughts later on today about The Pearl Fishers, as well as the company's production of Verdi's La traviata, which I caught up with yesterday afternoon.

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:58 AM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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