Nice Opera presents Léo Delibes’ Lakmé in a new staging by Laurent Pelly, a co-production between Nice Opera, the National Theatre of the Opéra-Comique and the National Opera of the Rhine. Lakmé stars soprano Kathryn Lewek in the title role and tenor Thomas Bettinger as her lover Gérald. Her servant, Mallika, is sung by mezzo-soprano Majdouline Zerari, and the role of Lakmé’s father, Nilakantha, is taken by baritone Jean-Luc Ballestra.
An opera in three acts, Lakmé was written in 1883 and based on a book by French naval officer and novelist, Pierre Loti, who had travelled widely and written a number of novels with an exotic theme. The idea of composing an opera based on Rarahu ou le Mariage de Loti (telling of his romantic liaison with an exotic Tahitian girl) was suggested to Delibes by Edmond Godinet who was keen to write a libretto for two stars of the Opéra Comique. Delibes apparently loved the idea, and set his opera in an exotic and beautiful location, with mysterious religious rituals, and the added intrigue of Western colonials living in a foreign country. The score was completed within a year, with a libretto by Godinet and Philippe Gille. A concert version of Lakmé premiered at the National Theatre of the Opéra Comique on 14th April 1883 – where it has been staged over 1,600 times since then.
The opera tells of a Brahmin girl, Lakmé who falls in love with a British officer, Gérald, whom she meets on a river bank where she and her servant Mallika had gone to gather flowers and to bathe. When her father – the stern Brahmin priest Nilakantha – discovers that a British soldier has trespassed and defiled the Temple of Brahmin, he swears vengeance. In the bustling bazaar Nilakantha forces Lakmé to sing a distinctive aria, the Bell Song, to attract the attention of the British officer, and as he draws closer to her, he is stabbed by Nilakantha.
Only slightly wounded, he is helped by Lakmé and Nilakantha’s servant, Hadji, to a secret hiding place deep in the forest. Gérald knows that he has been ordered to a new post, and realises that he must fulfill his duty and leave Lakmé behind. On hearing this, she tears a leaf from a poisonous tree and bites into it and as Nilakantha arrives on the scene she dies.
American soprano Kathryn Lewek may be remembered for her performance in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor for Nice Opera last season. She has made her name as the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), a role in which she marked her 50th performance at the Metropolitan Opera last season. According to the New York Classical Review, she is said to be “…. the finest contemporary Queen of the Night, bar none”. This season she will reprise this role at Semperoper in Dresden, where she will also sing the role of Olympia in Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, before performing the Queen of the Night at the Metropolitan Opera and appearing in Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall. Future seasons include reprisals of the roles of Konstanze in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata, as well as role débuts as Juliette in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette and Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto.
French tenor Thomas Bettinger – who appeared in Nice Opera’s production of Massenet’s Werther in May – has a voice described by Forum Opera as “warm, powerful and well conducted”. He has performed in most of the major opera houses across France, including the Opéra Garnier in Paris, in a wide range of roles such as Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca, Lt Pinkerton in his Madame Butterfly, Chevalier des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon, Lenski in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata and Don José in Bizet’s Carmen. In the concert hall, Mr Bettinger has sung the tenor part in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Madeleine Church in Paris, and in Bordeaux and Avignon, and in Haydn’s Creation at Avignon Opéra.
French mezzo-soprano Majdouline Zerari sings the role of Mallika. She has most recently appeared as Annina in Verdi’s La Traviata at Opéra national de Lorraine, also at Wiener Staatsoper, the Festival d’Aix en Provence and in opera houses across France, at which she has also sung the roles of Dritte Dame in Die Zauberflöte and Chamira in the World Premier of Thierry Escaich’s Shirine. As a concert performer, she has sung in Bartók’s Village Scenes, Mozart’s Requiem, Shostakovich’s Jewish Folk Poetry, Ravel’s Mélodies populaires grecques, Vivaldi’s Judita Triumphans and Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’été.
Last seen at Nice Opera in the role of Albert in Massenet’s Werther in May, French Baritone Jean-Luc Ballestra takes the role of the Brahmin Nilakantha. His repertoire includes the roles of Masetto in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Silvano in Verdi’s Un ballo in Maschera, Marcello in Puccini’s La bohème, Lescaut in his Manon Lescaut and Escamillo in Bizet’s Carmen. He made his American debut with the San Francisco Symphony in Ravel’s L’Heure Espagnole, and has also sung at the Salzburg, Vienna and Aix-en-Provence festivals. This summer he sang the role of Méphistophélès from Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust in Erfurt and during this current season, he will sing Le Dancaïre from Carmen in Zürich and El Tío Sarvaor from La Vida Breve by Manuel De Falla in Metz.
Also in the cast are Guillaume Andrieux as Frédéric, Lauranne Oliva as Ellen, Elsa Roux Chamoux as Rose, Svetlana Lifar as Mrs Bentson and Carl Ghazarossian as Hadji.
The conductor is Jacques Lacombe, regarded as one of the great specialists of French opera. He was appointed the new Artistic and Principal Conductor of the Orchestre Classique de Montréal in February this year. Following this appearance in Nice, he leads the Montreal Orchestra in Slava Ukraïni on October 17, in Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires and Handel’s Messiah. He leads the soloists, Nice Opera Choir and the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra in three performances of Delibes’ Lakmé – sung in French with surtitles in both French and English – on September 29th, October 1st and 3rd at the Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur.
Tickets may be reserved online.
Information sourced from:
Nice Opera programme notes
This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz