The Pearl Fishers

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago

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The Pearl Fishers

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago



(Les pêcheurs de perles)

by Georges Bizet
Sung in French with projected English translations


The Pearl Fishers Opera Overview

For sheer transcendent beauty, Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers has few rivals in the entire repertoire. The opera’s famed duet for tenor and baritone is a soaring melody that has turned countless opera newcomers into ecstatic fans. Bizet (who composed this work 12 years before Carmen) transports us to Ceylon, where two devoted friends find themselves in love with the same woman, an entrancingly beautiful priestess, Leïla. From its leading men and leading lady, The Pearl Fishers demands the ultimate in vocal beauty and elegance to do justice to this sweepingly romantic drama.
“Mr. Kwiecień is an ideal Zurga [and] Mr. Polenzani makes a poignantly believable Nadir. Their ardent, soaring performance... brought fresh urgency to the familiar music.”
The New York Times



With additional support from an Anonymous Donor

Matthew Polenzani's appearance is generously sponsored by Patricia A. Kenney and Gregory J. O'Leary.  

Production owned by San Diego Opera.

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



Photo: Todd Rosenberg

The Pearl Fishers Opera Resources

Join us in the theater one hour before the curtain rises for a free, 30-minute preview talk about the opera. Learn more about pre-opera talks.


This story of love, betrayal, and sacrifice centers around two friends, Nadir and Zurga, who have vowed to never let the love of a woman come between them. However, when a beautiful priestess arrives their vows are put to the test and each man must make his choice. Enjoy lush music and lively dance in Lyric’s production of this captivating romance that tests the bonds of friendship. 

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Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Audio Highlights

Georges Bizet

EMI recording -- Cotrubas, Vanzo, Sarabia, cond. Prêtre.

“Au fond du temple saint”

“Je crois entendre encore”

“Me voilà seule…Comme autrefois”


Opera Commentary

commentary by Sir Andrew Davis in collaboration with Jack Zimmerman

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The Pearl Fishers

Matthew and Mariusz: Dynamic Duo

When they’re onstage, Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecień create magic together. This season they’re soon to star as Nadir and Zurga in The Pearl Fishers.

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The Pearl Fishers’ Captivating Production, Lush Melodies, and Soaring Voices Win Audiences’ & Critics’ Praises

The Pearl Fishers’ Captivating Production, Lush Melodies, and Soaring Voices Win Audiences’ & Critics’ Praises

Come in from the cold! Enjoy the balmy breezes and brilliant colors of The Pearl Fishers by young Georges Bizet in Lyric’s new-to-Chicago presentation starring Marina Rebeka, Matthew Polenzani, and Mariusz Kwiecień as the passionate characters caught in a deadly love triangle. Here are just some of the pearls of praise.

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The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera

Season of Delights

The celebrated tenor-baritone duet from Georges Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers is only one of this opera’s glorious highlights. This beautiful opera that is set on the shores of ancient Ceylon returns to Lyric in a spectacularly colorful production.

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Music for The Pearl Fishers provided by through generous arrangement with Warner Classics, Official Education and Promotion Music Provider for Lyric Opera of Chicago.

© 2017/18 Lyric Opera Commentaries Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of Warner Music Group. All rights reserved. Recording & Production services provided by Mark Travis.
Lyric Opera Commentaries are sponsored by the Patrick G. and Shirley Welsh Ryan Foundation in memory of their parents.

Photos: Ken Howard/San Diego Opera, Elise Bakketun/Seattle Opera

The Pearl Fishers Synopsis

19th-century Ceylon

A beach

The ruins of an Indian temple


Scene 1 A beach
Scene 2 A wild place near the pearl fishers’ encampment


Fishermen gather and dance on the beach. Zurga interrupts the revels to remind everyone that the time has come for them to choose a king. The group chooses Zurga himself, and all declare their allegiance to him. Everyone is astonished at the arrival of Nadir, Zurga’s dear friend, who has returned unexpectedly after years of adventures. There is tension in the air. When he and Zurga are alone, the two recall their last trip together: They had reached the gates of Candi when they saw a beautiful woman at the temple of Brahma. Both of them fell in love with her at first sight, but they swore to forget her for the sake of their friendship. Now they swear again to remain friends.

Nourabad, the high priest of Brahma, and his fellow priests bring a veiled young woman before Zurga. She is about to follow the old custom: Once a year, a veiled virgin is chosen to pray for the protection of the pearl fishers for a day and a night. If she remains faithful to the law and is seen by no one, her reward will be the most beautiful pearl the fishermen can find. If she disobeys, she will die. The young woman is shocked to recognize Nadir, and when he hears her voice, he believes it may well be that of Leïla, whom he and Zurga had promised each other to forget. Zurga notices Leïla’s sudden apprehension, but she recovers her composure. Everyone leaves for the temple except Nadir, who reflects on his beautiful memory of Leïla. He recalls that, even after he and Zurga had made their vow, he saw Leïla again and was captivated.

Leïla lifts her voice in a prayer to Brahma, mesmerizing Nadir as he watches her from below. As she sings, Nadir realizes that it is Leïla and calls to her. Equally rapturous upon recognizing him, she continues to sing, but now her soaring melody is meant for Nadir alone.


Nourabad informs Leïla that the priests will be keeping watch, which will allow her to sleep peacefully. Leïla recalls the vow she made years before. She tells the priest that, when she was a child, a fugitive once came to her family’s hut begging for help. She hid him there, and in so doing saved his life. His enemies appeared, threatening to kill her, but she said nothing. When night fell, the man fled, but not before giving her his necklace. Nourabad reiterates that riches, glory, and happiness will all be hers if she keeps her vow.

Alone with her thoughts, Leïla seems to sense Nadir’s presence. As in the past, she can feel him watching over her. She is ecstatic to hear him serenading her in the distance. When Nadir appears, Leïla becomes apprehensive, but Nadir, who confesses that he could not keep away from her, ardently declares his love. A storm approaches. They do not notice Nourabad watching them. Upon seeing the two together, the high priest rushes away in a rage.

The lovers promise to see each other the next day. A shot is heard. Nourabad, the other priests, and the pearl fishers appear at the temple. Nadir escapes, only to be captured again. The crowd is about to strike him when Zurga rushes in and orders them to stop, since it is he alone who will decide the pair's fate. He whispers to the two that they should flee immediately. The furious Nourabad tears off Leïla’s veil, and Zurga instantly recognizes her. Now his concern turns to fury, and he proclaims that only misfortune will await both Leïla and Nadir. When the storm breaks out violently, the pearl fishers kneel and pray to Brahma for protection.


Scene 1. Alone in his tent, Zurga is unable to sleep, knowing that his former friend and the woman they both love must die at sunrise. He longs for them to forgive the rage that has overwhelmed him. When Leïla is brought in, she asserts her willingness to die if Zurga will spare Nadir’s life. Zurga refuses, and, in her anger and frustration, Leïla curses him, declaring that she will love Nadir forever. Nourabad announces that the executions must soon take place. Leïla is ready, but before she is taken away, she gives a fisherman her necklace and asks that it be taken to her mother when she is dead.

Scene 2. The pearl fishers dance wildly as they prepare for the deaths of Nadir and Leïla. The two are about to be executed when a sinister glow appears in the distance. Zurga rushes in, crying out that the encampment has been set on fire. All rush off to save their belongings, leaving Zurga, Leïla, and Nadir alone. Zurga – the fugitive whose life Leïla once saved – reveals that he lit the fire himself in order to save their lives. The lovers express their joy, but Zurga knows his own fate is sealed. Nadir hurries away with Leïla, leaving Zurga alone to face certain death.

Featured Media



Bizet's The Pearl Fishers

Bizet's The Pearl Fishers

Matthew Polenzani on the brotherhood in THE PEARL FISHERS

Matthew Polenzani on the brotherhood in THE PEARL FISHERS

Mariusz Kwiecień on working with Matthew Polenzani in THE PEARL FISHERS

Mariusz Kwiecień on working with Matthew Polenzani in THE PEARL FISHERS

Sir Andrew Davis on the music of Bizet's THE PEARL FISHERS

Sir Andrew Davis on the music of Bizet's THE PEARL FISHERS

Designer Zandra Rhodes on the look and feel of Bizet's THE PEARL FISHERS

Designer Zandra Rhodes on THE PEARL FISHERS

Makeup Looks inspired by Lyric's 2017/18 Season: RIGOLETTO

Makeup Looks inspired by Lyric's 2017/18 Season: THE PEARL FISHERS