Georges Bizet Les Pêcheurs de Perles - a rare film version made for French TV in 1960. Pearlfishers is notoriously difficult to stage because it's fantasy so exotic that it's hard to capture in believable visual images. Although it's supposedly set in Ceylon, the music (and indeed the plot) bears no resemblance to anything but French grand opera, so it needs to be taken with an imaginative sense of unreality. Is it ideal, then, for film, which isn't constrained by the physical limits of staging? Then, perhaps, we could enjoy the faux orientalisme done with the excess the music suggests.
Perhaps that's why Airs de France, a division of RFT (Radio Lyrique) attempted this Les Pêcheurs de Perles. It was filmed like a movie, so the cameras reach angles that couldn't be done in normal opera. There are luscious effects - real palm trees and greenery, realistic-looking mountain boulders for the cast to scramble on. A temple that looks ike a glorious hybrid of Angkor Wat, South India and 19th century French architecture. Much more naked flesh on the natives than in the photo above, from an early stage production. The overall effect is Hollywood extravaganza. Think Tarzan movies, with a better than average soundtrack.
Unfortunately the technology wasn't as advanced as the concept. The cameras don't really cope with movement, which rather spoils the best moments, since the crowd scenes are well choreographed. The principals stand around like they were made of wood, though their performances, while good, aren't really special enough to electrify proceedings. Lots of shots are out of focus and black and white film doesn't help. This is an opera that begs to be filmed in Technicolor, with special effects! (remember the scene in the ENO Pearl Fishers where figures were seen "swimming" suspended in the air spotlit in glorious greens and blues That was the sort of magic Pearl Fishers can inspire. Sadly, this film doesn't quite live up to its potential. When the village is torched the flames are clearly faked, with sparks of diagonal light flashing with the leaden regularity of a malfunctioning bar heater.
Cast : Léna Pastor - Leila, Michel Cadiou - Nadir, André Jonquères - Zurga, Charles Daguerressar - Nourabad., Chorus & Orchestra of the RTF Radio Lyrique conducted by Georges Derveaux