LAKME, A PASSIONATE STORY OF FORBIDDEN LOVE
A French libretto opera with lyrics by Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille and composed by Léo Delibes.
It is known primarily for its duets, but especially in recent times for Flower Duet (in Act 1), which features in several film soundtracks, opera compilations and adverts. Also the powerful Bell Song (in Act 2), a coloratura showpiece and the highlight of this opera. It was premiered by Opéra Comique in 1883 at the Salle Favart, Paris.
It was an immediate success and has been performed over 1500 times since then at the Salle Favart. There are still regular performances there and around the world. This opera follows a popular storyline of the day, relations between eastern and western cultures in the Orient.
Two people from opposing cultures fall into a forbidden love with a tragic ending. Set in the late 19th century when India was under rule from the British. Many Indians are forbidden by the British to openly practise the Hindu religion. It is done secretly in temples, hidden away from sight of the British. Nilakantha is a Brahmin priest who resorts to extreme methods to protect his daughter from a British officer.
Lakmé and her servant Mallika are bathing and picking flowers at the river's edge. Her father, Nilakantha, has warned her to stay away from the British. As British officer Gérald trespasses in the flower garden, he takes an interest in the girls' jewellery and the two are drawn towards each other. Her father Nilakantha is not pleased and wants to take revenge.
Nilakantha persuades his daughter to sing the alluring Bell Song in the marketplace in the hope that it will attract Gérald. Gérald hears her singing and approaches. Nilakantha stabs and wounds Gérald. The couple run off together into the forest helped by Nilakantha's servant. Gérald recovers from his injury.
Several couples are heard singing in the forest, trying to find a spring with magical properties to make people fall in love. Lakmé goes to find some of this water to bring back to Gérald. Whilst she is away Gérald is reminded of his duty to his country as well as his own fiancée and withdraws his love for her. In despair she bites the toxic datura leaf from a nearby flower bush.
They both drink the magical water and she dies just as her father arrives.
Nilakantha, high priest of the Brahmin temple, bass-baritone
Lakmé, his daughter, soprano
Mallika, her handmaid, mezzo-soprano
Gérald, British officer, tenor
Frédéric, British officer, baritone