by Georges Bizetpresented in French with English Text Translations
Prologue: Nourabad, the High Priest, is seen asking Brahma to give wisdom and protection to the new chief, whom they have just chosen.
Act I. Takes place in Ceylon, among the pearl fishers, who yearly visit the coast and camp there during the pearl fishing season. They are in the midst of a joyous festival when Zurga solemnly invites the fishermen to choose a chief whose word they shall obey. They inform him that he has been chosen.
A figure appears and Zurga recognizes the newcomer as an old friend from his youth, Nadir, who is also known to the fishermen as a great huntsman. Zurga and Nadir remember their rivalry for the beautiful priestess of Brahma, Leila. They had both seen her at the temple of Kandy and fallen in love with her. Because they both loved her, anger had developed between them, so they swore an oath of friendship that has never been broken.
It is the custom that a priestess from another island will come to pray for the fishermen while they are at sea, to ward off evil spirits; the boat carrying her arrives. Zurga tells Nadir that the veiled woman must not be approached or seen by anyone during the period of her vigil. The priest Nourabad brings her in. As she is welcomed, Zurga administers her oath, warning her that she must die if the oath is broken. The priestess is Leila, and she and Nadir recognize each other. As though he were in a trance, he watches as she climbs the cliff, reflecting on his undying love for her. She prays to Brahma, and prepares for her vigil, while Nadir swears that he will protect her from any danger.
Act II. Opens on a procession in which Nourabad leads Leila to the temple where she will sleep. Nourabad reminds Leila that if she betrays her vows, she must die. She assures him that nothing can make her break her word once it is given. As an example, she explains that the necklace she is wearing was given to her by a fugitive whom she refused to betray despite the threat of death. When Nourabad leaves, she sings of her love and suddenly hears Nadir singing a serenade. He joins her and the rapturous couple are reunited. She begs Nadir to leave her, and they agree to meet again the following day. However, Nourabad has seen Nadir leave, and calls down wrath on them both. The people fear that a storm is building. Nadir is captured, Nourabad accuses both him and Leila of sacrilege and the people shout for vengeance. Zurga as chief claims the right to judge them both, wanting to be lenient with his friend, but when Nourabad tears the veil away and Zurga recognizes Leila, he realizes that his friend has broken his oath of friendship. The lovers pray to Brahma for help while the crowd urges Zurga to condemn them.
Act III. Zurga compares his restless state of mind to the dangerous storm that has just passed, sparing the fishing fleet. He laments his broken friendship with Nadir. Leila appears, begging for mercy for Nadir and willing to accept fatal punishment for herself. Zurga, however, is stricken by jealousy and Leila curses his cruelty. She asks the king for a final favor. Giving him her necklace, she asks him to send it to her mother.
In Scene 2, the betrayed and frightened people seek personal revenge through ritualism before the actual execution takes place. The lovers are led to the spot, but just as they are about to be executed, a fire breaks out in the distance and Zurga runs in, calling for help. Everyone rushes off to save the village. Zurga remains and tells the lovers that he personally set the fire. He has recognized the necklace -it was he who had given it to Leila, and the fugitive she had refused to betray was himself. He frees them and tells them to go. They flee, but Zurga is denounced for treachery by Nourabad in front of the people. During an ensuing struggle, Zurga is stabbed, and lies dying as Leila and Nadir are heard in the distance, escaping only because of his sacrifice.