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Bizet's Other Opera: 'The Pearl Fishers'

Mention the name Georges Bizet to a roomful of music lovers and responses will vary widely, ranging from "one of the all time greats" to "lightweight tunesmith." Regardless of the opinions, that second description contains a key word: tune. And Bizet wrote plenty of great ones.

Sometimes, it seems like all of Bizet's most familiar melodies can be found in one place — his wildly popular opera, Carmen. Carmen's "Habanera," the "Toreador March" and the Don Jose's "Flower Song" are just a few of the opera's many hit numbers.

But at least one of Bizet's best-loved tunes doesn't come from Carmen at all. It's from Bizet's "other opera," the only one of several others he wrote that is heard in opera houses today. It's called The Pearl Fishers, and even if the name sounds unfamiliar, its most famous number — a duet for tenor and baritone called "Au fond du temple saint" — is another one of those familiar, infectious Bizet melodies that has wandered out of the opera house and into pop culture.

The duet comes at a point, early in the story, when the two characters singing acknowledge that they're both in love with the same woman, but they've decided to give her up. Surely, the men declare with deep emotion, no woman is worth jeopardizing their lifelong bond. (Yeah, right.) When she reappears in their lives, the result is a life and death struggle, and as the final curtain falls, their whole village is burning to the ground! So much for eternal friendship.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents a production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers from the Montreal Opera. Tenor Antonio Figueroa and baritone Phillip Addis star as the two troubled friends, with soprano Karina Gauvin as the woman who comes between them. The performance comes to us from Wilfrid Pelletier Hall, at the Place des Arts in Montreal.

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