- Hugh Macdonald
Opéra in three acts by Léo Delibes to a libretto by Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille after Pierre Loti ’s novel Rarahu; Paris, Opéra-Comique (Salle Favart), 14 April 1883.
The idea for Lakmé came from Edmond Gondinet. He wanted to write an opera libretto for the young American soprano Marie van Zandt, whose success in Thomas’ Mignon in 1880 had created a great stir. He suggested to Delibes an adaptation of Pierre Loti’s recent novel, Rarahu, also known as Le mariage de Loti. Delibes read the novel on a train journey to Vienna and immediately agreed. He composed the score between July 1881 and June 1882, and the première the following April was a resounding success. Jean-Alexandre Talazac sang the role of Gérald. Lakmé remained in the repertory of the Opéra-Comique for some 80 years and was quickly produced on other stages.
The setting is British India. Lakmé (soprano) is the daughter of Nilakantha (bass-baritone), a Brahmin priest who thirsts for revenge against the occupying British. A group of English people wander near Nilakantha’s home: two officers, Frédéric (baritone) and Gérald (tenor), Miss Ellen, Gérald’s fiancée (soprano), her cousin Rose (soprano) and their governess Mistress Bentson (mezzo-soprano). When the others move on, Gérald remains behind and is discovered by Lakmé as she returns to her house. He is instantly entranced by her mysterious beauty. Lakmé too is moved. But he has to flee at the approach of Nilakantha, who swears vengeance when he finds his ground has been profaned by unknown intruders....