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Arts and Entertainment

Opera Carolina presents 'The Pearl Fishers'
Forbidden love, digital technology take center stage in modern version of Bizet classic.
Published Thursday, March 21, 2013
by Michaela L. Duckett

Opera Carolina’s technologically modernized revision of George Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers” is a story of forbidden love, rivalry and

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A scene from the modernized stage production of "The Pearl Fishers" plays Charlotte on April 13, 18 and 21 at Belk Theater

sacrifice. The production plays April 13, 18 and 21 at Belk Theater.

The opera portrays the sordid tale of a dangerous love affair that unfolds in a tropical pearl-fishing village in ancient Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka).

No less engaging than Bizet’s powerhouse favorite “Carmen,” “The Pearl Fishers” is a musical treasure with lush melodies, haunting arias and the famous “Pearl Fishers” duet “Au fond du temple saint.”

Metropolitan Opera soprano Janinah Burnett stars as the mysterious, recently installed veiled priestess Leila. To fulfill her duties of constantly staying vigilant and in prayer for the fisherman, Leila has to take a vow of chastity.

When her love interest, Nadir (played by Chad Johnson) intervenes to fight for her love, both are threatened with death as a torrid love triangle unfolds.

“She’s fearless and will do anything for love,” said Burnett of her character. “I resonate with that. I also resonate with the religious positioning and the way she has to pray for the fisherman’s safety. Other people have power over her. I don’t relate directly with that but I resonate with a force bigger than you controlling what you do.”

For the love of music and theater

Burnett said her love of theater came naturally. Her mother, Imani Constance Burnett, is a poet, and her father is jazz drummer Carl Burnett.

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Metropolitan Opera soprano Janinah Burnett stars as Leila.

“Music has always been around me,” she said. “I always sang. I always enjoyed singing specifically. Other things would come and go but singing would stay with me, but I really didn’t start taking classes seriously until high school.

By 2014, Burnett will have appeared in over 250 shows around the world including performing at Oprah Winfrey’s birthday celebration at Maya Angelou’s home and on stage with Ray Charles, Anika Noni Rose and many others.

Still, she says no performance has been more memorable than her first Broadway production, Puccini’s “La Boheme.”

“That was what started my career,” she said. “It introduced me to the world of theater and not only opera, but theater in general. So many of my colleagues were from all over the business, and I loved that diversity.”

Her advice to aspiring actors and opera singers who hope to follow in her footsteps is to hone their craft.

“Work on the craft more than anything,” she said. “The craft is the only thing that when everything changes and you have no control over those outside circumstances you know that at the end of the day your technique and your craft are solid. That may mean spending and extra two hours a day focusing on your language courses and all of the languages in which opera is done.”

She also advises taking advantage of every opportunity to “get in front of people and perform.”

The old becomes new

Opera Carolina first performed “The Pearl Fishers” in 2005. But James Meena, general director and principal conductor of Opera Carolina, said the 2013 version is much different what from audiences experienced before.

“We are transforming the production using advanced technology not available in 2005 when we first performed this beautiful piece,” said Meena. “Our digital projections will create a brand new visual experience for the audience members that will both captivate and engage them in a way that traditional painted scenery and static lighting cannot.”

 Burnett said Charlotte audiences can expect a “spectacle,” and advises all of those who are attending opera for the first time to keep an open mind.

“Try to be open to listening to it in a way that you’ve never listened before,” she said. “Try to listen beyond the sound. Listen with your eyes and try to comprehend what the story is and listen with your heart.”


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