Opera in three acts (four scenes)
Libretto by M. Carre and E. Cormon
Venue: about. Ceylon.
On the shores of the island, pearl divers gathered to choose the leader. The choice falls on Zurgu – the most experienced and respected hunter. Suddenly, from the coastal thickets a young man is shown. Zurga finds out in him Nadir, his former friend; love for the once-met beauty tore them apart and made enemies. Nadir went to distant wanderings and now returned, convinced that he had overcome his passion. Enemy is forgotten, nothing prevents the former friendship. In the sea there is a boat, in it a female figure, covered with a veil. To dangerous fishing was successful, you need to propitiate the evil spirits of the sea, and this can only be done by the prayers of the priestess, who vowed celibacy and purity. The boat sticks to the shore. The hunters welcome their future intercessor. Zurga reminds her of the oath of renunciation of love. The girl swears and at this moment sees Nadir, who, like her, shocked by an unexpected meeting. In the priestess he recognizes his beloved Leila.
Night has come. High Priest Nurobad takes Leila to the temple on a steep seashore, surrounded by wild rocks. The loneliness of the new priestess will be guarded by an armed guard. Nurabad asks if Leila can keep this oath. In response, the girl tells how in her childhood she hid the fugitive, whom the enemies were looking for, and, despite the threats, did not extradite him; in gratitude the rescued gave her a necklace – here it is. When Nurabad leaves, the idea of an unexpected meeting with Nadir, memories of their love capture Leila. With bated breath, she listens: from afar the song of Nadir is heard. The voice is approaching, but when the young man enters the temple, fear embraces her: what will happen if they are seen together? Leila begs the beloved to leave, he agrees to come again tomorrow. On the trail he is seized by the guard. Priests and fishermen demand the execution of criminals. Zurga calms them: he – the leader himself will decide the fate of young people. Then Nurobad tears off the veil from the girl,
and Zurga finds out Leila, the girl whose love for him made him and Nadir enemies. Blinded by jealousy and a thirst for revenge, he suddenly changes the decision: let both die!
Zurga is alone in his tent. Heavy thoughts torment him: how could he, yielding to a fit of rage, condemn to death a friend and beloved! The hunters enter Leila, who wants to speak with the leader, into the tent. She broke her vow and is ready for a severe punishment, but Nadir is innocent, and Leila passionately begs for his salvation. Leila’s intercession only inflames Zurga’s jealousy. Offended in his love, eager for revenge, he again demands death for both. Leila asks the young fisherman to fulfill her last request – to take the mother a pearl necklace. The struck Zurga recognizes him: this necklace he gave to a girl who had once saved him: he sentenced to death the one who owes his life.
Around the burning bonfire, the swimmers dance the sacred dance of revenge. Leila and Nadir are preparing to enter the fatal circle. Suddenly, the horizon is glowing with the glow of a fire. Zurga brings the news that angry gods sent fire to huts and crops. Forgetting about the convicts, the catchers run away. Only Nurobad remains, to which the events seem suspicious. Hiding himself, he hears Zurga’s words that he himself set the village on fire to help Leila and Nadir escape. Lovers hide in impassable more often, and the high priest in the meantime calls people. Enraged catchers brutally revenge for deception, Zurga dies in the flames of the sacred fire.