The reception to Plácido Domingo as he set out to conduct the opera was rousing, but it was the spectacular opening of the show, a dream-like sequence of deep-sea divers looking for pearls that made the audience gasp with delight and prepared it for the stunning visuals to come in this opera about transgressive love and the test of friendship.
Written by Bizet, it first premiered in 1863 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris when he was not yet 25 years old. While the reception was mixed and it was never again revived in his lifetime (but then, he lived to be only 37 years old), time has been deservedly kinder to his exotic endeavor, and the L.A. Opera production by Penny Woolcock, is a worthy dive.
The friendship between two men — Zurga, a political leader (baritone, Alfredo Raza), and his long-lost friend Nadir (tenor, Javier Camarena) is once again threatened with the arrival of beautiful Leila (soprano – and Monica Belluci-esque, Nino Machaidze) whom they both love but have foresworn. Leila herself faces a conflict between her desire for Nadir and her sacred oath as a chaste priestess upon whose unfaltering devotion rests the fate of the ramshackle seaport village. Passions run deep, loyalties are tested, and consequences abound in this swift and tight, one-intermission opera.
The impeccable set design by Dick Bird, breathtaking visuals incorporating high-tech projections from 59 Productions, and colorful costumes by Kevin Pollard are a treat. And although the most popular aria of the show has always been the “love duet”, “Au fond du temple saint,” (“Deep in the holy temple”), it’s tenor Javier Camarena with the barcarole-style “À cette voix…Je crois entendre encore” that delivers the goosebumps and takes your breath away.