Music with Ease > 19th Century French Opera > Lakmé - Delibes
An Opera by Léo Delibes
Opera in three acts by Delibes; libretto by Gille and Gondinet.
Lakmé is the daughter of Nikalantha, a fanatical Brahmin priest. While he nurses his hatred of the British invader, his daughter strolls in her garden, singing duets with her slave Mallika. An English officer, one Gerald, breaks through the bamboo fence that surrounds Nikalanthas retreat, in a ruined temple in the depths of an Indian forest. He courts Lakmé who immediately returns his love. Nikalantha seeing the broken fence at once suspects an English invader. In act two the old man disguised as a beggar is armed with a dagger. Lakmé is disguised as a street singer. Together they search for the profaner of the sacred spot at a market. It is here that she sings the famous Bell Song. Gerald recognizes Lakmé as Nikalantha recognizes the disturber of his peace. A dagger thrust lays Gerard low. Lakmé and her slave carry him to a hut hidden in the forest. During his convalescence the time passes pleasantly. The lovers sing duets and exchange vows of undying love. But Frederick, a brother officer and a slave to duty, informs Gerard that he must march with his regiment. Lakmé makes the best of the situation by eating a poisonous flower which brings about her death.
The story is based by Gondinet and Gille upon "Le Marriage de Loti." Ellen, Rose, and Mrs. Benson, Englishwomen, hover in the background of the romance. But their parts are of negligible importance, and in fact when Miss Van Zandt and a French Company first gave the opera in London they were omitted altogether, some said wisely. The opera was first presented in Paris at the Opéra Comique with Miss Van Zandt. It was first sung in New York by the American Opera Company at the Academy of Music, March 1, 1886. The first Lakmé to be heard in New York was Pauline LAllemand. The second, Adelina Patti, this time in 1890 and at the Metropolitan Opera House. Mme. Sembrich and Luisa Tetrazzini sang it later.