Lakmé is an opera in three acts by Léo Delibes to a French libretto by Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille, based on the 1880 novel Rarahu ou Le Mariage de Loti by Pierre Loti.
The subject of the opera was suggested by Gondinet as a vehicle for the American soprano Marie van Zandt. Delibes wrote the score during 1881-82. Like many other French operas of the late 19th century, Lakmé captures the ambience of the Orient that was in vogue during the latter part of the nineteenth century; Bizet's The Pearl Fishers and Massenet's Le roi de Lahore being two other examples.
The opera was first performed on 14 April
at the Opéra Comique
with Van Zandt in the title role and Jean-Alexandre Talazac
Its complex melodies are Delibes' signature. In the 21st century, Viens, Mallika, les liens en fleurs (The Flower Duet)
in Act 1 is the most familiar music from the opera because of its use in advertisements, as well as in films (such as The Hunger
). However, the Act 2 aria "Où va la jeune Hindoue?" (the "Bell Song") has long been a favourite recital piece for coloratura sopranos
. Many recordings of it are sung in Italian as "Dov'e L'indiana Bruna?".
The story is set in the late nineteenth century British Raj in India
. Many Hindus have been forced by the British to practice their religion in secret.
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 famous "Flower Duet." As they approach the water at the river bank, Lakmé removes her jewelry and places them on a bench. A party of British officers Frederic and Gerald arrive nearby while on a picnic with two British girls and their governess. The British girls see the jewelry and request sketches: Gérald volunteers to stay and make sketches of the jewelry. He sees Lakmé and Mallika returning and hides. Mallika leaves Lakmé for a while; while alone Lakmé sees Gerald and, frightened by the foreigner's incursion cries out for help. However, simultaneously, she is intrigued and so she sends away the help when they come to her rescue. Lakmé and Gerald 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.
At a bazaar, Nilakantha forces Lakmé to sing (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.
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 realizes that she has lost him. She dies with honour, rather than live with dishonour, killing herself by eating the poisonous datura
- No. 1 Introduction: "À l'heure accoutumée" (Nilakantha)
- Prière: "Blanche Dourga" (Lakmé, Nilakantha)
- No. 1 Bis - Scène: "Lakmé, c'est toi qui nous protégeons!" (Nilakantha, Lakmé)
- No. 2 - Duetto (The Flower Duet): "Viens, Mallika, les lianes en fleurs ... Dôme épais, le jasmin" (Lakmé, Mallika)
- Scène: "Miss Rose, Miss Ellen" (Gérald)
- No. 3 - Quintette & couplets: "Quand une femme est si jolie" (Gérald)
- Récitatif: "Nous commettons un sacrilège" (Gérald)
- No. 4 - Air: "Prendre le dessin d'un bijou" (Gérald)
- No. 4 Bis - Scène: "Non! Je ne veux pas toucher" (Gérald, Lakmé)
- No. 5 - Récitatif & Strophes: "Les fleurs me paraissent plus belles" (Lakmé)
- No. 5 Bis - Récitatif: "Ah! Mallika! Mallika!" (Lakmé)
- No. 6 - Duo: "D'où viens-tu? Que veux-tu?" (Lakme, Gérald)
- No. 6 Bis - Scène: "Viens! La! La!" (Nilakantha, Lakmé)
- No. 7 - Choeur & Scène du marche: "Allons, avant que midi sonne"
- No. 7 Bis - Récitatif: "Enfin! Nous aurons du silence!"
- No. 8 - Airs de danse: Introduction
- No. 8 - Airs de danse: Terana
- No. 8 - Airs de danse: Rektah
- No. 8 - Airs de danse: Persian
- No. 8 - Airs de danse: Coda avec Choeurs
- No. 8 - Airs de danse: Sortie
- Récitatif: "Voyez donc ce vieillard"
- No. 9 - Scène & Stances: "Ah! Ce vieillard encore!" (Nilankantha, Lakmé)
- No. 9 Bis - Récitatif: "Ah! C'est de ta douleur" (Lakmé, Nilankantha)
- No. 10 - Scène & Legende de la fille du Paria (Air des Clochettes/The Bell Song):
- : "Ah!... Par les dieux inspires... Où va la jeune Hindoue" (Lakmé, Nilankantha)
- No. 11 - Scène: "La rage me dévore" (Nilankantha, Lakmé)
- No. 12 - Scène & Choeur: "Au milieu des chants d'allegresse" (Nilankantha, Lakmé)
- No. 12 Bis - Récitatif: "Le maître ne pense qu'à sa vengeance"
- No. 13 - Duo: "Lakmé! Lakmé! C'est toi!" (Lakmé, Gérald)
- No. 14 - Finale: "O Dourga, toi qui renais" (Gérald)
- No. 15 - Berceuse: "Sous le ciel tout étoile" (Lakmé)
- No. 15 Bis - Récitatif: "Quel vague souvenir alourdit ma pensée?" (Gérald, Lakmé)
- No. 16 - Cantilène: "Lakmé! Lakmé! Ah! Viens dans la forêt profonde" (Gérald)
- No. 17 - Scène & Choeur: "La, je pourrai t'entendre" (Lakmé, Gérald)
- No. 18 - Scène: "Vivant!" (Gérald)
- No. 19 - Duo: "Ils allaient deux à deux" (Lakmé, Gérald)
- No. 20 - Finale: "C'est lui! C'est lui!" (Nilankantha, Lakmé, Gérald)
- 1940: Lily Pons (Lakmé), Armand Tokatyan (Gérald), Ezio Pinza (Nilakantha), Ira Petina (Mallika), New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Wilfrid Pelletier (conductor) (The Golden Age; live)
- 1952: Mado Robin (Lakmé), Libero de Luca (Gérald), Jacques Jansen (Frédéric), Jean Borthayre (Nilakantha), Agnés Disney (Mallika), Chœurs et Orchestre du Théâtre National de l'Opéra-Comique, Georges Sébastian (conductor) (Decca)
- 1967: Joan Sutherland (Lakmé), Alain Vanzo (Gérald), Gabriel Bacquier (Nilakantha), Jane Berbié (Mallika), Chœurs et Orchestre National de l'Opéra de Monte Carlo, Richard Bonynge (conductor) (Decca)
- 1970: Mady Mesplé (Lakmé), Charles Burles (Gérald), Roger Soyer (Nilakantha), Danielle Millet (Mallika), Chœurs et Orchestre du Théâtre National de l'Opéra-Comique, Alain Lombard (conductor) (EMI)
- 1998: Natalie Dessay (Lakmé), Gregory Kunde (Gérald), José Van Dam (Nilakantha), Chœur et Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse, Michel Plasson (conductor) (EMI)
- Easybyte - free easy piano arrangement of "Flower Duet from Lakmé" plus midi sound file