Monday, November 14, 2011

Pittsburgh Opera Performs "Pearl Fishers" With Sean Panikkar

Devoted Fishermen: Panikkar, left, plays opposite Verm.
"The plot is straight-forward. Zurga (Craig Verm), chief of the island, rekindles a friendship with Nadir (Sean Panikkar) only to see it dismantled when the woman they both love, Leila (Leah Partridge), shows up. She's a priestess threatened with death if she interacts with a man, but for forgoes all when she sees Nadir for the first time in years. The Pearl Fishers not a tragic opera, however, and after much soul searching, Zurga frees the couple even as it costs him his life. How satisfying it was to see Mr. Verm in a major role as his career continues to rise. We have watched
Lovers Reunited: Leila (Leah Partridge)
and Nadir (Sean Panikkar).
him grow up, as it were, from a singer in the Pittsburgh Opera's resident artist training program taking bit parts to larger roles in such operas as Turandot (Ping) and Tosca (Angelotti). Here he was a commanding figure, stiff and formal until he breaks down after Leila appears. Mr. Verm's voice has matured into an oaken timbre. It is not big, but potent and steady. Mr. Panikkar also was a resident artist here and has a bright future, too. He just happens to be of Sri Lankan decent. His parents immigrated to the United States and -- get this -- his uncle was a pearl diver in his youth. But that, of course, doesn't mean a thing in opera, and it was Mr. Panikkar's lyric tenor that made him the fit for the role. He didn't often sing at full bore in this opera, per the score, but when he did, it
Love Triangle: Zurga (Verm), Leila (Partridge)
and Nadir (Panikkar) together at last.
radiated throughout the hall. When he held back he offered a silky timbre that sounded like an amplified version of someone whispering sweet nothings in your ear. Singing in French, diction aside, is a boon for a singer like him, and even with a few issues with his head voice, he was tremendous. While Andrew Gangestad was solid in the small role of Nourabad, Leah Partridge was inconsistent. She handled the most difficult work the best, intoning the cavatina 'Comme autrefois dans la nuit somber' with lovely shades. But her vibrato at other times got in the way of Bizet's flowing score. She did unquestionably look the part. That was also the case for the barely dressed beefcake male and sensual female dancers, although they weren't always together in their heavy, stomping and leaping choreography by John Malashock and general conception by stage director Andrew Sinclair." [Source] For a feature story on Sean Panikkar and his family's ties to Sri Lanka, click here.

Mob Mentality: Leila and Nadir face the wrath of Nourabad and the guards.

Photos by David Bachman/Pittsburgh Opera

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