Today we’re listening to…
“Au fond du temple saint” (popularly known as “The Pearl Fishers Duet”) a tenor duet from Act I of the 1863 French opera Les pêcheurs de perles (popularly known as “The Pearl Fishers”) by Georges Bizet. Jussi Björling (BEE-yohr-ling) and Robert Merrill are singing here and there has, for me, never been anything more perfect. When I feel a little down, I listen to this piece and it brightens my day. You can feel their voices caressing and wrapping around each other.
This duet follows in the nineteenth-century tradition of operatic “Friendship” duets, which typically feature tenor and baritone singing complementary musical lines.
🎧 Listen here (4 minute listen):
The opera’s plot and text are actually pretty silly (and hardly credible) but there is no denying the beauty of this music. The story of The Pearl Fishers revolves around a love triangle between Zurga, the leader of a fishing village (on the coast of Sri Lanka), his old friend Nadir, and the priestess Leïla. On their last adventure, they happened upon a temple where they see Leïla leading the prayers. Both fall in love with her; but, knowing she could destroy their friendship, they pledge to never let their friendship be threatened again.
Oh yes, let us swear to remain friends!
Yes, it is she, the goddess, who comes to unite us this day.
And, faithful to my promise, I wish to cherish you like a brother!
It is she, the goddess, who comes to unite us this day!
Yes, let us share the same fate, let us be united until death!
At the time of the premiere, George Bizet was not even 25. He was a heavy smoker and unfortunately died of a heart attack at 36, three months after the premiere of Carmen (the opera he is best known for), unaware that his opera would become an enormous success.
Jussi Björling was a tenor (the highest of the male voice types) and Robert Merrill was a baritone (the middle-range voice type for males; it lies between the bass and tenor ranges).
Where have you heard this before? Everywhere! Jussi Björling and Robert Merrill’s 1951 recording was incredibly popular and this duet was in the ears of even non-opera fans everywhere.
Thank you for listening,