The glitz and glamour of the Fort Worth Opera Festival Opening night is always a fun sight and occasion. Bass Hall is transformed into a red carpet experience; this year with a bit of a “Bollywood” feel. All of this pre-performance ballyhoo was the perfect set up for Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers (Les pêcheurs de perles), which opened to a thrilling chorus and dance. Not long after the opening curtain, Sean Panikkar made a statement that he was going to be the true star of the evening during the Des savannas et des forêts aria in the role of Nadir. Panikkar’s soaring, lyric tenor also made for a thrilling performance in the famous and celebrated “Pearl Fishers Duet” with baritone Lee Poulis as Zurga. While Poulis showed great promise in both the before-mentioned duet and his many other arias, especially the moving L’orage s’est calm in Act three, his voice was often lost in the fold. After a somewhat shaky O Dieu Brahma! aria in Act I, soprano Hailey Clark comes into her own in the second act and nearly brought the house down in her Comme autrefois dans la nuit cavatina.
The Fort Worth Opera prides itself on finding those up-and-coming artists that are soon to be stars. Many-a-young singer has performed at Bass Hall before moving on to larger stages around the world. It seems that FWO director, Darren Woods, has found the next big name to hang his and the organization’s hat on in tenor Sean Panikkar. Panikkar made a major impression in his 2013 FWO performance as Rodolfo in La bohème, and has had quite the successful rise since; but he showed himself in a class above his peers in The Pearl Fishers on Saturday evening. He may be one of the best voices I’ve heard during the 2013-14 Dallas and Fort Worth Opera Seasons, and is certainly the best tenor thus far.
Bizet employs the orchestra extremely well throughout the opera, using many fantastic motifs in character introductions, and under the baton of conductor, Joe Illick, the Fort Worth Symphony members were brilliant. The horns beautifully introduced the theme of Leila’s Comme autrefois…. aria, and the strings, especially the cellos, which are soloistic throughout, were stellar in their support of the many lightly-orchestrated arias.
Once again, the Fort Worth Opera Festival opens with a bang, and shows why the mix of standard repertoire (though Pearl Fishers is much less performed than Bizet’s more famous, Carmen) with modern operas, via a festival format, can work so beautifully.
- April 27
- May 2