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Despite its exotic setting, this early opera stubbornly refuses to abandon the stage and enter the heart, as Carmen undoubtedly did. What conviction there is comes mainly from the 25-year-old composer's melodic fluency and subtle treatment of the orchestra, as in the beautiful tune of the Prelude.
The scene is set in Ceylon and concerns the love of Zurga, king of the pearl fishers, and his friend Nadir for a priestess, Le�la. In the first act, the two men meet and have apparently recovered from their infatuation; but the priestess is appointed by the pearl fishers to protect them from the wrath of the Hindu god Brahma during the fishing season. Despite her veil, Nadir recognizes Le�la, again falls in love with her, and his affection is returned. Despite Le�la's vow of chastity, they are found in the sanctuary of the temple. The High Priest Nourabad tears off her veil and Zurga, in a jealous fury, condemns her to death. But, it appears, Zurga once showed his gratitude to a girl who helped him when he was being attacked by robbers by giving her a necklace, and he notices that Le�la is wearing the necklace. He decides to free her, starts a fire in the pearl fishers' tents, and the prisoners escape. (In later productions, Zurga is usually killed, but this does not happen in the printed libretto of the original vocal score).
The plot is mawkish, the characters weakly drawn, and much of the music derivative (mainly of Gounod and Massenet, though there is also a considerable debt to Verdi). The best (and worst) parts are the concerted choruses and ensembles, though Zurga and Nadir's duet "Au fond de la Temple," which returns again and again in the manner of a leitmotif, has to some extent proved an insurance against the eclipse of Les P�cheurs. Le�la's oath of chastity, "Je le jure" in Act One, is also treated in this episodic way. Bizet received few favors from his librettists (Carr� and Piestre) and highlight discs are usually more impressive than complete performances.
This arrangement is for solo Tenor and Bass with small chamber ensemble.