Lakmé, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2015Posted on 16 July 2015
This Delibes opera about the days of the Raj, when a British officer falls in love with the daughter of a Brahmin priest, expresses a late nineteenth and early twentieth century fascination with exotic locales — think Pearl Fishers and Madama Butterfly — and like Butterfly is based on a work by French novelist and naval officer Pierre Loti.
An excellent production by Aylin Bozok reflects this exoticism with Morgan Large’s central design of a delicate flower that hides secrets in its half-open, central, turning cabin. And Howard Hudson’s lighting enhances the magic and sense of mystery, helped by the fading of the day on a summer evening in Holland Park. For instance in Act III when fellow officer Frédéric comes to disturb Gerald’s dreamy recuperation we see him contrasted as cold and real, his face entirely in shadow. This causes a change in Gerald, and when Lakmé returns and sings Ah! Ce n’est plus toi! the sudden change of lighting and orchestral colour creates a stunning moment.
This opera is full of wonderful moments to which Matthew Waldren in the orchestra pit gave great effect with a mix of liveliness, charm and solemnity. Yet this work is little regarded, perhaps partly owing to ennui with an earlier Western fascination for the Orient and partly because the action is rather fixed in time and place. But the structure is good, and the three big duets for Gerald and Lakmé occur one per Act.
These two roles for relatively light voices were superbly sung by Fflur Wyn and Robert Murray. His early Act I soliloquy about the jewels of the young Lakmé showed wonderful poetic lyricism, her singing exhibited a charming purity, and their duets flowed with energy and passion: Quel dieu? Ah! C’est le dieu de la jeunesse, c’est le dieu du printemps (Act I), and in Act II their love swelled forth in a glorious moment before the Brahmins suddenly enter.
As Lakmé’s father the Brahmin priest, David Soar was a commanding vocal presence, with Nicholas Lester as the cautious and duty-bound Frédéric singing with noble sincerity. Katie Bray as Mallika provided Hindu purity, her wonderful flower duet with Fflur Wyn overcoming its irritating use by British Airways, and Maud Miller and Fleur de Bray showed simple delight as the young English women Ellen and Rose, with Ms Millar notable in her Act I solo Ces sont des femmes idéales.
The use of a dancer (Lucy Starkey) worked well to create an oriental sense of mystery and helped express Lakmé’s hidden emotions, particularly in Act II when she entices Lakmé to follow and feel the emotions tugging at her heart, leading to the central realisation by the high priest that he is losing his daughter. Altogether a very fine performance capped by unity between Gerald and the priest in the final moments, and I loved the curtain-call appearance of Gerald and Lakmé from the flower-like temple, reflecting her eating of the datura flower that sent her to l’éternelle vie — marvellous.
Performances continue on various dates until July 31 — for details click here.