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Of the many operas that aren't widely recognized as masterpieces, few exert as much interest and appeal as Bizet's The Pearl Fishers (Les Pecheurs de Perles). As the current issue of Opera News points out, this supposedly second-rate piece coincidentally is turning up all over the country this season, including Washington National Opera. That company, which last performed The Pearl Fishers in 1993, brought it back to the stage Saturday night at the Kennedy Center in a widely traveled staging that originated at the San Diego Opera with sets and costumes by Zandra Rhodes, the famed British fashion designer favored by Princess Diana, among other celebrities. It proved to be quite the visual treat, full of hot '60s colors amid simple fairy-tale scenery.

It all fell pleasantly on the ears, too, thanks especially to tenor Charles Castronovo as Nadir, whose dulcet tone caressed the exquisite aria Je crois entendre encore to telling effect. And he held up his end of things quite expressively in the opera's one huge hit, the tenor/baritone duet Au fond du temple saint, with Trevor Scheunemann, who also offered a good deal of vocal warmth and finesse throughout the evening. Soprano Norah Amsellem, as Leila, added her own share of limpid sounds to the engaging production, which also featured beautifully molded work by the chorus and some spirited dancing. I'll post some more detailed thoughts later on today about The Pearl Fishers, as well as the company's production of Verdi's La traviata, which I caught up with yesterday afternoon.

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