Magazine article Opera Canada

Lakme. (Canada: Hamilton)

Magazine article Opera Canada

Lakme. (Canada: Hamilton)

Article excerpt

Opera Ontario continued its exploration of less-familiar repertoire with a smartly minimal production of Delibes' Lakme. Known largely for the Act I barcarole for Lakme and her serving girl, which famously became the television calling-card for British Airways some years ago, and the flamboyant coloratura of the Act II Bell Song, the opera is rarely revived these days. On the evidence of this production, that's a pity. While the musical texture is rather thin, Delibes was a dab hand at melody and had a keen ear for color. In good musical hands, the opera can engage even though it might never grip.

The story is an interesting one of clashing cultures. Set in the early days of Britain's colonial rule of India, it's about the love affair between a young English army officer, Gerald, and the daughter of a fanatical Brahmin priest, whose religion the Brits have banned. Lakme, who is regarded almost as a deity by her father's followers, is hiding out with them in the jungle, but quickly falls for Gerald after a chance meeting. To cut a lot of singing short, Gerald in the end chooses a soldier's honor and his English fiancee over the young native girl, with Lakme committing suicide by taking the poisonous part of the otherwise beautiful Datura tree.

The opera, which premiered at the Opera Comique in 1883, is part of a roster of 19th-century works that revel in their Orientalism. Despite its colorful exoticism--and notwithstanding that a couple of scenes with the English characters sound like preciously Gallicized Gilbert and Sullivan--Lakme has a libretto that's shot through darkly with the dismissive racism of India's new colonial masters.

The characters in OO's production were fully costumed, but there was no scenery (and no Act II ballet). German director Andreas Geier let the story unfold on a bare playing area, wholly open except for some scrims. …

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