Léo Delibes

Lakmé, opera

    Description by Rovi Staff

    Lakmé is a three-act opera with a libretto by Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille. Gondinet thought the subject particularly suited to the soprano voice of Marie van Zandt, a rising young vocal star whom he admired. The subject comes from a novel by Pierre Loti. Delibes composed the music between 1881 and 1882, but the premiere took place the following April 1883 at the Opéra-Comique of Paris. Typical of its age, the story makes use of an exotic location, Hindu religious rituals, tension and conflict between the natives and the British settlers, and conflicts surrounding the two main lovers, who both have obligations and loyalties that war with their passion for one another. The music is rich and sensuous, with an oriental flavor during the crowd scenes and scenes of religious rites. This oriental flavor defines the ambiance of the story, giving an aural background even where there is no narrative. Meyerbeer's L'Africaine makes similar use of the contrasts between Europeans and "pagans," and also has a love triangle which crosses ethnic boundaries in much the same way. And the subtle colors and harmonies that create this "exotic" world blending European culture with foreign elements were also inspired by Meyerbeer and Bizet. The opera was very well-received by the public and was produced many times at the Opéra-Comique. It achieved international popularity as well, and all in all is as great a work as Delibes' ballets Sylvia and Coppélia.

    Lakmé was based on a novel by Pierre Loti, with strong autobiographical elements inspired by a romance the author experienced while living in Tahiti. Rarahu, the woman involved, eventually died from alcoholism. The basic outline of the story was retained, but Delibes transferred the story to India so that the cultural conflict could be one between the British and the Brahmin Hindus. And instead of alcohol being the cause of his heroine's downfall, Delibes chose as the means of her demise the poetic device of a poisonous flower, the datura (which outside of the operatic stage is not deadly).

    The hinge-piece of the opera is the famous "Bell Song" (De la fille du paria). It is sung by Lakmé at the behest of her father, the Brahmin priest Nilakantha. Unbeknownst to her, he intends to use her beauty and beautiful singing to ensnare a trespasser. A British officer named Gérald is one of a group of Englishmen who has trespassed on holy ground despite a warning that this was forbidden on pain of death. He saw Lakmé and fell in love with her instantly, and she with him. Nilakantha observed the last part of their meeting, but fled without being clearly seen.

    Delibes' topic suggested musical contrasts between the British and the Eastern characters and locales; it is modal melodies that give the opera its distinctiveness and particular charm. Besides the wonderful "Bell Song, " there are various "Oriental" dances and passages intended to depict Hindu ceremonial music. Even though the growth of world-spanning media and field recordings has shown us just how inauthentic this music is, the opera continues to seem exotic in mood. Even though the opera is a fairly rare visitor to the stage outside France, the "Bell Song" has always been popular.


    1. Prelude
    2. No. 1. À l'heure accoutumée (Introduction)
    3. Blanche Dourga (Prière)
    4. No. 1 Bis. Lakmé, c'est toi qui nous protégeons!
    5. No. 2. Viens, Mallika ... Dôme épais, le jasmin (Flower Duet)
    6. Miss Rose, Miss Ellen
    7. No. 3. Quand une femme est si jolie (Quintette & Couplets)
    8. Nous commettons un sacrilège
    9. No. 4. Prendre le dessin d'un bijou
    10. No. 4 Bis. Non! Je ne veux pas toucher
    11. No. 5. Les fleurs me paraissent plus belles (Récitatif & Strophes)
    12. No. 5 Bis. Ah! Mallika! Mallika!
    13. No. 6. D'où viens-tu? Que veux-tu?
    14. No. 6 Bis. Viens! La! La!
    15. Entr'acte
    16. No. 7. Allons, avant que midi sonne (Choeur & Scène du marche)
    17. No. 7 Bis. Enfin! Nous aurons du silence!
    18. No. 8 Airs de danse. Introduction
    19. No. 8 Airs de danse. Terana
    20. No. 8 Airs de danse. Rektah
    21. No. 8 Airs de danse. Persian
    22. No. 8 Airs de danse. Coda avec Choeurs
    23. No. 8 Airs de danse. Sortie
    24. Voyez donc ce vieillard
    25. No. 9. Ah! Ce vieillard encore! (Scène & Stances)
    26. No. 9 Bis. Ah! C'est de ta douleur
    27. No. 10. Ah!... Par les dieux inspires...Où va la jeune hindoue? (Legende de la fille du Paria)
    28. No. 11. La rage me dévore
    29. No. 12. Au milieu des chants d'allegresse
    30. No. 12 Bis. Le maître ne pense qu'à sa vengeance
    31. No. 13. Lakmé! Lakmé! C'est toi!
    32. No. 14. O Dourga, toi qui renais (Finale)
    33. Entr'acte
    34. No. 15. Sous le ciel tout étoile (Berceuse)
    35. No. 15 Bis. Quel vague souvenir alourdit ma pensée?
    36. No. 16. Lakmé! Lakmé! Ah! Viens dans la forêt profonde (Cantilène)
    37. No. 17. La, je pourrai t'entendre
    38. No. 18. Vivant!
    39. No. 19. Ils allaient deux à deux
    40. No. 20. C'est lui! C'est lui! (Finale)

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94659
    2012 Opera Australia OPOZ 56022CD
    2011 Opera Australia OPOZ 56012CD
    2008 Decca 4607412
    2007 BRV 9802
    2006 Gala Records 100770
    2005 RPO 222827
    2005 Decca 4756793
    2004 Nuova Era 7096
    2003 Opera D'Oro 1378
    2003 Pearl 181
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 67745
    2002 EMI Classics 567742
    2001 Brilliant 99544
    1998 EMI Music Distribution / Erato 7243556569
    1997 Bella Voce 7223
    1989 London 425485
    1988 EMI Music Distribution 49430
    Brilliant 99547
    Nuova Era 232735
    Fe 108
    Rodolphe 32426/27
    EMI Music Distribution 749430
    Legato Classics 191