Everyone knows the first act duet for tenor and baritone from Bizet’s opera The Pearl Fishers. Less well know is the second act love duet for soprano and tenor – ‘Léïla! Léïla!…Dieu puissant, le voilà!’ The story which I’ve resisted summarizing in previous posts on this opera is a love triangle. A Ceylonese Vestal Virgin (Léïla) is loved by both the tenor and the baritone. Guess which one she prefers. This duet is the moment in the opera when the VV decides that a life of chastity isn’t so hot after all. When you hear the music you’ll easily understand why she made her decision to abandon the pursuit of the pure spirit.
There aren’t many recordings of this duet; so I’ve grouped four that give a good account of Bizet’s lush melodies. The first is from a 2004 recital. The singers are Nathalie Manfrino and Roberto Alagna. Alagna and Manfrino – duet from The Pearl Fishers. It begins a little after the start of the scene. Alagna’s voice is considerably fresher than it is today. Manfrino, Alagna’s sister-in-law, has a beautiful voice and sings with feeling and finesse. I’m surprised her career hasn’t been more prominent.
Next is the entire duet. It was recorded in 1960 and is in Italian. It feature a young Alfredo Kraus and Pina Margaini. Kraus and Margarini The Pearl Fishers love duet.
This duet sound beautiful even when sung in Swedish with an electronic keyboard accompaniment. The singers are Elin Rombo and Carl Unander-Scharin. The Love Duet from The Pearl Fishers.
Finally, here the duet sung by Timothy Birt and Abigail Dueppen. These young singers do a fine job with this difficult music. We’re back to French. This excerpt is taken from the 2010 production of the opera by Houston’s ambitious regional opera company Opera in the Heights. The Love Duet from Les Pecheurs des Perles.
Bizet’s death at 36 was a cultural catastrophe from which the French have yet to fully recover. It’s impact is matched only by the effect on American music by George Gershwin’s death at a similar age.