Monte-Carlo Opera presents Léo Delibes’ Lakmé – an opera set in a location both exotic and beautiful, with mysterious religious rituals, and the added intrigue of Western colonials living in a foreign country.
Lakmé was 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 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. The first production of the opera by Monte-Carlo Opera took place two years later, on 21st February, 1885.
The opera tells of a Brahmin girl, Lakmé who falls in love with a British officer, Gerald, whom she meets on a river bank where she and her servant Mallika had gone to gather flowers and to bathe. When Lakme’s father – a priest named 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. Gerald 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.
The title role is taken by French soprano Sabine Devieilhe whose 2022-23 operatic season will feature a reprise of Lakmé at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, her debut as Soeur Constance in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites at the Metropolitan Opera, in his Les Mamelles de Tirésias and Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris. She will also make her house debut as Blanche in a new production of Dialoges des Carmelites at the Vienna State Opera. On the concert stage she will appear with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Concertgebouworkest, and in recital at the Philharmonie in Paris, at the Musikverein in Vienna and Graz, the Opernhaus in Zürich and London’s Wigmore Hall.
Fleur Barron, who sings Mallika, has been described by Seen and Heard International as having “…. incredible poise and expressive weight – not to mention a thrillingly dark and rich-veined mezzo and a striking stage presence”. On the operatic stage this season, Fleur sings the title role in a staged version of Kaija Saariaho’s Adriana Mater with the San Francisco Symphony, the title role in Hasse’s Marc Antonio e Cleopatra with the NDR Radiophilharmonie, the title role in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with La Nuova Musica for a new Pentatone disc, Alto soloist in a staged production of Mozart’s Requiem at the Opéra National de Bordeaux, and Bersi in for Monte-Carlo Opera.
The role of Gerald is taken by French tenor Cyrille Dubois. Highlights of his forthcoming season include a reprise of his role in Lakmé opposite Sabine Devieilhe at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, an evening of Arias & Duos by Offenbach with Patricia Petibon at the Grand Théâtre de Provence in Aix-en-Provence, a return to the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées for an evening of Mozart’s Opera Highlights, appearances in Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol and Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias with Sabine Devieilhe, and in Charpentier’s Médée.
Belgian baritone, Lionel Lhote, who sings Nilakantha, has made frequent appearances at leading theatres and opera houses in Europe. Included in his latest performances are appearances in Verdi’s Don Carlos, Gounod’s Faust and Verdi’s Aida at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège, Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, in Benvenuto Cellini on tour with the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale at La Monnaie de Bruxelles, Gounod’s Faust and Massenet’s Manon at Monte-Carlo Opera, and his Werther at Opéra de Paris.
French conductor Laurent Campellone is known for his expertise in French opera of the Romantic era. He has appeared with ensembles such as the Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, the Deutsche Oper of Berlin, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Radio-France Philharmonic Orchestra, the Brazil National Orchestra, the Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Toulouse Capitole National Orchestra and the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra. He’s also a regular guest conductor at French festivals such as the Chaise-Dieu Festival and the Berlioz Festival.
Laurent Campellone leads the guest artists and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus (Director Stefano Visconti) in performances of Delibes’ Lakmé at the Salle Yakov Kreizberg, Auditorium Rainier III on 9th and 11th December. Further information is available on the Monte-Carlo Opera website.
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This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz