Buff baritones spice up Nashville Opera's production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers 

Raiders of the Lost Hunks

Raiders of the Lost Hunks

For most folks, the term "ladies' night out" brings to mind images of a trip to see the Chippendales, a night at a dance club, or maybe some shenanigans on Second Avenue or Lower Broad — not an evening at the opera.

But according to Nashville Opera's general and artist director, John Hoomes, the company's production of Georges Bizet's The Pearl Fishers could be the ideal choice for ladies' night out.

Yeah, right, you're probably thinking. But hear the man out.

"There's an opera website which is not too well known outside of the opera world, called Barihunks," Hoomes says, laughing. "Basically, it's a website dedicated to hunky baritones. Our baritone, Craig Verm, has been featured there. We also have a bass baritone, Ben Wager, and he's been featured on there as well."

You heard him right — two of the opera world's most buff baritones will be onstage at when the company tackles The Pearl Fishers.

Though it doesn't have the name recognition of Bizet's masterpiece, Carmen — one of the most popular and influential operas of all time — The Pearl Fisher is a compelling work in its own right.

Like Carmen, The Pearl Fishers opened to harsh criticism when it premiered in 1863, due to subject matter that was quite edgy for its time. The opera, which takes takes place on the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), involves a love triangle between two men who are best friends, and the woman who comes between them. Love triangles were hardly a new topic in the 19th century arts scene, but according to Hoomes, Bizet captured human emotion in such an intensely realistic way that critics and audiences were uncomfortable.

"The way [Bizet] wrote was very ahead of his time," Hoomes says. "The music he wrote — the emotions, the realism he put into it — was not something that started to happen in opera until the 1900s. So audiences and critics of that day just weren't used to that kind of thing.

"A lot of operas of this time, they didn't really deal with realism that much, and they didn't deal with raw emotion," he continues. "A lot of audiences found this shocking. A lot of critics thought it was too sensual."

Hoomes says that by today's standards, The Pearl Fishers would be rated PG. But that certainly doesn't mean the opera is any less thrilling than it was when it debuted 150 years ago.

"The story has a lot of adventure," he says. He describes one scene in particular — in which a character fights off angry islanders, holding them at bay with a torch — as something you'd see in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

"It feels very Indiana Jones in spots," Hoomes says. "It's very different from what people expect opera is."

For just that reason, Hoomes says The Pearl Fishers would be a great introductory piece for opera novices. "The story is very straightforward, and we can all relate to the topics of love, betrayal and revenge."

So did the hunkiness of the dreamy baritones figure into Hoomes' casting for the opera?

"I was very careful in casting this show, just because it is set on a beach — so therefore, we're not wearing that much." Hoomes says. "My body makeup budget is soaring on this!"

But he's quick to add that Verm and Wager are aural candy as much as they are eye candy, providing a nice — and perhaps distracting — contrast to the dark subject matter.

"Opera seems to focus on a lot of dark human emotions, because those are more dramatic," he says. "But I tell you what — this is a hunkfest!"

Email arts@nashvillescene.com

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