Lakmé

Lakmé is an opera in three acts by Léo Delibes to a French libretto by Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille.

The score, written from 1881–1882, was first performed on 14 April 1883 by the Opéra-Comique at the (second) Salle Favart in Paris, with stage decorations designed by Auguste Alfred Rubé and Philippe Chaperon (Act I), Eugène Louis Carpezat and (Joseph-)Antoine Lavastre (Act II), and Jean-Baptiste Lavastre (Act III). Set in British India in the mid-19th century, Lakmé is based on Théodore Pavie's story "Les babouches du Brahamane" and novel Le Mariage de Loti by Pierre Loti.[1]

The opera includes the popular Flower Duet (Sous le dôme épais) for a soprano and mezzo-soprano, performed in Act 1 by Lakmé, the daughter of a Brahmin priest, and her servant Mallika.[2] The name Lakmé is the French rendition of Sanskrit Lakshmi, the name of the Hindu Goddess of Wealth. The opera's most famous aria is the Bell Song (L'Air des clochettes) in Act 2.

In contrast to other French operas of the period, such as Bizet's The Pearl Fishers and Massenet's Le roi de Lahore.[3], Lakmé does more than simply capture the ambience of the Orient seen through Western eyes. The subject of the opera - which has a contemporary setting - is in fact the colonialism of the British army in India, focusing on their poor attitudes towards Indian cultural systems and the Hindu religion. It was suggested by Gondinet as a vehicle for the American soprano Marie van Zandt.[2]

The Indian fashion brand Lakmé, established in 1952 by the Tata Group and now owned by Hindustan Unilever, is named after the opera.

Performance history[]

Following its premiere at the Opéra Comique in 1883, Lakmé reached its 500th performance there on 23 June 1909 and 1,000th on 13 May 1931. A series of performances took place at the Théâtre Gaîté Lyrique Paris in 1908, with Alice Verlet, David Devriès and Félix Vieuille.[4]

Roles[]

Role Voice type Premiere cast,[4]
14 April 1883
(Conductor: Jules Danbé)
Lakmé, a priestess, daughter of Nilakantha coloratura soprano Marie van Zandt
Gérald, a British army officer tenor Jean-Alexandre Talazac
Nilakantha, a Brahmin priest bass Cobalet
Frédéric, officer friend of Gérald baritone Barré
Mallika, slave of Lakmé mezzo-soprano Elisa Frandin
Hadji, slave of Nilakantha tenor Chennevière
Miss Ellen, fiancée of Gérald soprano Rémy
Miss Rose, companion of Ellen soprano Molé-Truffier
Mistress Bentson, a governess mezzo-soprano Pierron
Fortune teller (Un Domben) tenor Teste
A Chinese merchant tenor Davoust
Le Kouravar baritone Bernard
Chorus: Officers, ladies, merchants, Brahmins, musicians

Synopsis[]

Place: India
Time: Late nineteenth century during the British Raj. Many Hindus have been forced by the British to practise their religion in secret.

Act 1[]

The Hindus go to perform their rites in a sacred Brahmin temple under the high priest, Nilakantha. Nilakantha's daughter Lakmé (which derives from the Sanskrit Lakshmi) and her servant Mallika are left behind and go down to the river to gather flowers where they sing the "Flower Duet". As they approach the water at the river bank, Lakmé removes her jewellery and places it on a bench. A party of British officers, Frederic and Gérald, arrive nearby while on a picnic with two British girls and their governess. The British girls see the jewellery and request sketches; Gérald volunteers to stay and make sketches of the jewellery. He sees Lakmé and Mallika returning and hides. Mallika leaves Lakmé for a while; while alone Lakmé sees Gérald and, frightened by the foreigner's incursion, cries out for help. However, simultaneously, she is intrigued and so she sends away those who had responded to her call for help when they come to her rescue. Lakmé and Gérald begin to fall in love with each other. Nilakantha returns and learns of the British officer's trespassing and vows revenge on him for his affront to Lakmé's honour.

Act 2[]

At a bazaar, Nilakantha forces Lakmé to sing (the Bell Song) in order to lure the trespasser into identifying himself. When Gérald steps forward, Lakmé faints, thus giving him away. Nilakantha stabs Gérald, wounding him. Lakmé takes Gérald to a secret hideout in the forest, where she nurses him back to health.

Act 3[]

While Lakmé fetches sacred water that will confirm the vows of the lovers, Fréderic, a fellow British officer, appears before Gérald and reminds him of his duty to his regiment. After Lakmé returns, she senses the change in Gérald and realises that she has lost him. She dies with honour, rather than live with dishonour, killing herself by eating the poisonous datura leaf.

Music[]

Original poster for Lakmé

In conventional form and pleasant style, but given over to the fashion for exoticism, the delicate orchestration and melodic richness earned Delibes a success with audiences.[5] The passionate elements of the opera are given warm and expressive music, while the score in general is marked by subtle harmonic colours and deft orchestration. Oriental colour is used in prayers, incantations, dances and the scene in the market.[3]

The Act 2 aria "Où va la jeune Hindoue?" (the 'Bell Song') has long been a favourite recital piece for coloratura sopranos. (Recordings of it in Italian, as "Dov'e l'indiana bruna?", also exist.)

In recent years, the Flower Duet in Act 1 has become familiar more widely because of its use in advertisements, in particular a British Airways commercial,[2] as well as in films.[6] The aria sung by Lakme and Mallika was adapted for the theme "Aria on air" for the British Airways "face" advertisements of the 1980s by music composers Yanni and Malcolm McLaren.[7]

Musical numbers[]

Act 1[]

Act 2[]

Act 3[]

Recordings[]

In film[]

References[]

Notes
  1. ^ Charles P. D. Cronin and Betje Black Klier (1996), "Théodore Pavie's "Les babouches du Brahmane" and the Story of Delibes's Lakmé", Opera Quarterly 12 (4): 19–33.
  2. ^ a b c "Lakmé by Leo Delibes" on npr.org Retrieved 15 January 2011
  3. ^ a b MacDonald H., "Lakmé", The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, London and New York: Macmillan: 1997.
  4. ^ a b Wolff S. Un demi-siècle d'Opéra-Comique. André Bonne, Paris, 1953.
  5. ^ Lacombe H., The Keys to French Opera in the Nineteenth Century, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001.
  6. ^ For example, The Hunger "'Horror! – Monsters, Witches & Vampires (Soundtrack)'". Silva America.
  7. ^ "British Airways - Face". SplendAd. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  8. ^ Sennwald, Andre (29 November 1935). "Lily Pons Makes Her Debut in 'I Dream Too Much,' at the Music Hall -- 'In Old Kentucky.'". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 October 2019.(subscription required)
  9. ^ "The Hunger Soundtrack by IMDB" on imdb.com Retrieved 04 February 2020
  10. ^ "Watch Aida Garifullina perform the Bell Song, from Florence Foster Jenkins". The Guardian. 17 May 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2019.

External links[]