Simon Keenlyside Turns Bizet British

Simon Keenlyside talks about the challenge of recording Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers in English.

Simon Keenlyside

Classic FM: What made you want to be involved in this project?
Simon Keenlyside: Two things. First of all I’ve had a long association with Peter Moores, whose foundation supported me at college. He’s a great philanthropist; we’re very lucky to have someone as passionate as he is in our world. And secondly, I’m an old friend and great admirer of Barry Banks, who sings opposite me as Nadir. I think he’s got the most beautiful lyric voice – a beautiful sound. 

CFM: How was it singing such well-known music in English?
SK: I love the notion of doing things in a language that you can understand right now, so I enjoy doing things in English. I’d never sung The Pearl Fishers before – apart from the famous baritone and tenor duet of course – so whether it’s different in English I can’t say. But I think as an actor or as a singer you make the best of whatever you’ve got in front of you. 

CFM: There are two versions of the famous duet on the disc, including the original which doesn’t reprise the main tune and is the version Brad Cohen the conductor favours…
SK: Yes – similarly, when we did Don Carlos at the Royal Opera House we had these endless discussions about different versions. Shall we do the French version or the Italian version… there were four or five to choose from. Which one was correct – the composer’s first draft or his last draft? It’s impossible to say really.

Brad has reasons for his preference, but you can’t really say which one is the more authentic. I actually don’t think one needs to get wrapped up in authenticity or other highbrow reasons for doing a particular work. The Pearl Fishers is a fantastic piece and its full of great tunes – that’s enough reason to do it, and to record two versions of the wonderful duet!