Jan 24, 2014

The Pearl Fishers: Two Guys in Love in Sri Lanka

I hate opera.  Long, boring songs, hackneyed, cliched plots, and nothing but hetero-romance as far as the eye can see.

Sometimes there's a gay subtext, as in The Spanish Hour  or Porgy and Bess, but usually you're listening to some guy singing endlessly in Italian about "Women are great, aren't women great?  Men don't like men, they just like women, because women are great!"

But The Pearl Fishers (Les pecheurs de perles, 1863), by Georges Bizet, is about men in love.

Based on a long tradition of stories about intense, passionate friendships set in "exotic" locations, it features Zurga, the leader of a group of Sri Lankan pearl fishermen, and Nadir, his bosom buddy.  They are usually portrayed bare-chested and muscular, and in love with each other.

When the other pearl fishermen sentence Nadir to die for offending the gods, Zurga argues for clemency.  Then he discovers that Nadir is in love with his ex-lover, and angrily calls for them both to be executed.  At the last minute he changes his mind and allows the two to escape, and his enraged coworkers stab him to death.

It's not exactly Brokeback Mountain, but for an opera, it has enormous gay subtext potential.  Listen to this song:

Oh yes, let us swear to remain friends!
Yes, it is her, the goddess, who comes to unite us this day.
And, faithful to my promise, I wish to cherish you like a brother!
It is her, the goddess, who comes to unite us this day!
Yes, let us share the same fate,let us be united until death!

It has been performed often in Europe and the United States, and recently for the first time in Sri Lanka.  You can also several different recordings.

And it's a lot more interesting than John Steinbeck's "The Pearl"