The Pearl Fishers

Georges Bizet | Leeds production

16 May – 2 June 2023

This event has passed.

Rail strikes are planned on Wednesday 31 May 2023, please leave extra time for your journey.

For every pearl, a price

Dive deep into the waters where a timeless tale of love, desire… and bitter betrayal unfolds. Two friends: Nadir and Zurga, find their friendship put to the ultimate test as they fall in love with the same woman. As their passion ignites and promises are broken, one man’s wild jealousy erupts into hot-blooded violence, threatening to destroy their lives forever.

Written 10 years before Carmen, Bizet’s trademark melodies brim with emotion including the famous friendship duet Au fond du temple saint. Under the baton of conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren the spellbinding soundscape, intricate harmonies and soaring choruses expertly capture the extremes of beauty and darkness. Director Matthew Eberhardt’s atmospheric production – exclusive to Leeds – brings a thoughtful and modern approach to this 160-year-old work.

“the Orchestra of Opera North sounded magnificent”
★★★★ — The Arts Desk

“a ravishing performance”
★★★★ — Bachtrack

Tour performance of The Pearl Fishers at The Bridgewater Hall; Sage, Gateshead; Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham and Hull City Hall will be presented as concerts.

From £15*

Dates for The Pearl Fishers on tour (concert performances)

Running time
Approx. 2 hours 15 minutes (including one interval)

Sung in French with English titles

All performances audio described excluding 16 and 25 May

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*Prices vary by venue. Booking fees may apply.

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Now open from Tuesday to Saturday, Kino is our restaurant and bar located in Leeds on New Briggate, presenting the best independent food, wine and beer.

For pre-show dining we recommend booking no later than 90 minutes before the start of the performance.

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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 two events with members of the creative team in conversation.

The Pearl Fishers: more than a duet

Director Matthew Eberhardt and conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren tell us why Bizet’s music has captivated people for over 150 years.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more


On the coast, a community makes a precarious living from the dangerous seasonal work of diving for pearls. When Zurga tells the people that they should choose a leader, they all swear absolute loyalty to him.

Nadir arrives and is recognised by Zurga as his former friend. They remember how, on their travels together, they had both fallen in love with a priestess they encountered in a temple. For the sake of their friendship, they vowed to each other to give up any thought of a relationship with her. Now, they reaffirm their bond of friendship.

The community’s high priest, Nourabad, presents a priestess whose singing will pacify the spirits of the sky, land and sea during the current fishing season. This priestess – Leïla – is the woman with whom Zurga and Nadir were in love. She swears an oath of chastity on pain of death. Her reward for keeping the divers safe from harm will be their finest pearl. After Zurga outlines the dire consequences should she fail to keep her vow, Leïla recognises Nadir.

Nadir admits he was unable to suppress his desire for Leïla and returned to the temple to hear her song. He has continued to admire her from afar. Now hearing her song again, he approaches her, and she reveals herself to him.

Nourabad tells Leïla that all the fishermen have returned safely from the sea and that she can now sleep soundly until morning. He says she has nothing to fear as long as she keeps her vow. As proof of her steadfastness, she tells him how, when she was a small child, she helped a fugitive hide from his pursuers, not revealing his whereabouts even when she was threatened with death. In remembrance of her bravery and kindness, the man gave her a necklace.

Leïla falls asleep, her thoughts full of Nadir. He makes his way to her sanctuary and together they reminisce about the night they first met. They acknowledge their mutual love. As he departs, promising to return the following night, a violent storm breaks and the couple are discovered. Nourabad denounces them for their sacrilege before the assembled crowd, who demand their deaths. Zurga intervenes to protect his friend, and urges the couple to make their escape. But when Nourabad rips off Leïla’s veil, Zurga realises that Nadir has betrayed their oath of friendship and, furious, orders the couple’s execution.


Both the storm and Zurga’s anger have abated. He is ashamed of his behaviour, and wants forgiveness of both his friend and the woman he loves.

Leïla is brought to him and he is overwhelmed by her beauty. She pleads for Nadir’s life, but succeeds only in rekindling Zurga’s jealous fury when he realises how deeply she loves his friend and rival. As she is taken away for execution, she hands over her necklace to be sent to her mother. Examining it, Zurga realises that Leïla was the child who, years before, saved his life when he sought refuge.

The community prepares for the ritual deaths of Leïla and Nadir. At the last moment Zurga stops them with the news that their encampment is on fire. He has started the fire to provide Leïla and Nadir with the opportunity to escape. Zurga is left alone to meet his fate.


This audio introduction gives detailed information about the story, the sets and costumes, the cast list, and the dates and venues of the performances.

It is to aid customers who are blind or partially sighted. Please note, the story and the details of the sets and costumes contain spoilers, so avoid them if you would prefer not to know what happens!

large print transcript of the audio introduction is available to download.

Cast & creative

A woman wearing a shirt with a high neck line with long hair.
Sophia Theodorides


Black and white headshot of Nico Darmanin
Nico Darmanin


Quirijn de Lang


A man with short grey hair wearing a shirt and jacket.
James Creswell


Matthew Kofi Waldren
Matthew Kofi Waldren


Matthew Eberhardt


A woman with brown hair tied behind her head.
Joanna Parker

Set, Costume and Video Designer

A man with white hair.
Peter Mumford

Lighting and Video Designer

Laila Diallo

Movement director

The Pearl Fishers

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