TALK: Beauty and Desire

Exoticism and Authenticity in The Pearl Fishers

Monday 15 May 2023

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What might it mean to stage The Pearl Fishers in 2023?

On the eve of Opera North’s new staging of Bizet’s opera, join Academic in Residence Professor Edward Venn, creatives from the production and guests for a series of conversations about how productions and performances of The Pearl Fishers engage with issues of desire, memory, colonialism and authenticity.

The pearl, says director Matthew Eberhardt, can be used to represent “beauty and desire” as well as “obsession and greed”. All of these themes come to the fore in his staging of the work, which explores the inner lives of the three main characters.

Bizet’s location for the opera – an imagined, pre-colonial version of Sri Lanka – reflects nineteenth-century Parisian tastes for exoticism in the arts. For modern-day opera companies, creative artists and audiences, this setting, and Bizet’s handling of it, brings with it questions about the legacies of colonialism and the ways in which non-European cultures are represented.

Speakers include Matthew Kofi Waldren (conductor), Matthew Eberhardt (director), Keranjeet Kaur Virdee MBE (Chief Executive, South Asian Arts-uk) and Griselda Pollock (Emeritus Professor, University of Leeds).

A DARE symposium in partnership with the University of Leeds, led by Professor Edward Venn from the School of Music as part of the Sadler Seminar Series Telling Operatic Stories: Race, ethics, and authenticity supported by the Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute.


Start time

1 hour 30 minutes

Content note
Discussion of anachronistic references to race

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Written in the mid-19th century, The Pearl Fishers setting in an exoticised pre-colonial Sri Lanka presents challenges for contemporary opera companies and audiences. In a related series of events alongside this opera, we will explore some of the issues involved in presenting this work today.

With introductions by specialist academics from the University of Leeds, the Howard Assembly Room’s season of post-colonial cinema complements – and critiques – our staging of The Pearl Fishers. Films by female and global majority directors offer a contemporary counterbalance to the opera, and a space for critical thinking and discussion on the subjects it raises for us today.

The programme also features an intimate performance from Carnatic singer Yarlinie Thanabalasingam, presenting music rooted in the region in which Bizet set his opera and a special event during which the creative team will give a unique insight into the work.

Five reasons to catch The Pearl Fishers

Here are our top five reasons why we think you’ll want to catch our brand new production of this opera classic.

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Opera North: Race, Representation and Authenticity

An exhibition exploring 40 years of Opera North’s operatic storytelling will open at the University of Leeds on Tuesday 28 March.

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TALK: Beauty and Desire

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