St Petersburg, Mariinsky II

Lakmé

PREMIERE


opera by Leo Delibes

Performed in French (the performance will have synchronised Russian supertitles)

Performers

Conductor:

Christian Knapp

Lakmé: Kristina Gontsa
Gérald: Denis Zakirov
Frédric: Yegor Chubakov
Nilakantha: Andrei Serov

World premiere: 14 April 1883, Opéra Comique, Paris
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 6 December 1884, the Imperial Italian Opera
Premiere of this production: 16 November 2023


Running time: 3 hours 30 minutes
The performance has two intervals


The production was carried out jointly with the Krasnoyarsk opera and ballet theatre named after Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Age category 12+

Credits

Music by Léo Delibes
Libretto by Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille

Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Director: Sergei Novikov
Set and Costume Designer: Maria Vysotskaya
Lighting Designer: Ruslan Mayorov
Video Designer: Dmitry Ivanchenko
Choreographer: Alexander Sergeev
Musical Preparation: Natalia Mordashova
Chorus Master: Pavel Teplov

SYNOPSIS

Act I
The Hindu Brahmin Nilakantha strives to preserve his flock in the contemporary metropolis. Yet, his cultural center irritates the city authorities and hinders local businessmen, who have long coveted the prime parcel of land in the shady park, flanked by skyscrapers. Each morning, Hindus from the local community gather for the ritual of ablution. However, Nilakantha enjoys the support of other citizens who prefer the dilapidated Hindu facade to yet another commercial complex.
Brahmin’s young daughter, Lakmé, is revered by the Hindus as a living goddess. Before the statue of Durga, the protectress of the feminine principle, she performs her morning prayer, after which the congregants depart for work. Nilakantha, too, leaves; he has preparations to oversee for tomorrow’s festival in honor of the goddess Durga.
Lakmé and her friend Mallika sail out on a boat to gather lotuses for the goddess’s offering. Meanwhile, strangers infiltrate their sanctuary: Gérald and his friends, driven by curiosity, inspect Nilakantha’s abode, oblivious to the fact that they are defiling objects and spaces sacred to the Hindus.
Gérald’s fiancée, Ellen, the daughter of the local governor, picks a poisonous datura flower, and only the know-it-all Frédéric saves her from the plant’s lethal effects. He warns Ellen’s sister, Rose, who wants to examine the golden jewelry on the statue of Durga: touching them would be a sacrilege that no Hindu would forgive.
Gérald offers to sketch the jewelry and remains alone in the Hindu center’s dwelling. The girls return with the lotuses. Lakmé, upon discovering the intruder, instinctively calls for help but then releases the rushing Mallika and Hadji, realizing that exposing the Englishman would doom him to a harsh confrontation with her father.
She sends Mallika and Hadji into the city to find Nilakantha. Alone with Gérald, she initially drives him away, but within minutes of explanation, she cannot resist the charm of the young man. Their encounter is interrupted by a crowd led by Nilakantha. Gérald manages to hide among the fence bars, while the enraged Brahmin, finding the offender’s traces, vows to find and punish him.

Act II
On the day of Durga’s festival, Nilakantha drapes the facade of his center with restored fragments of the destroyed painting The Devil’s Wind. The city authorities interpret this act as a political demonstration and declare the rebellious Brahmin wanted, but he manages to vanish. Fearing publicity and scandal, the authorities do not cancel the celebration but limit the fair to only until noon. Furthermore, a secret decision is made to demolish the Hindu cultural center building early the next morning.
Miss Bentson, the governess of the governor’s daughters, gets lost in the fair crowd, where local pickpockets ransack her. Frédéric and Rose come to her rescue. Attempting to intrigue the young man, Rose reveals that she already knows about the secret orders for the troops to move against the rebellious Brahmin in the morning. However, Frédéric maintains secrecy and pretends not to understand what she’s talking about.
Meanwhile, Nilakantha, disguised as a sinpasi (a penitent beggar) tries to find his offender among the revelers in the park. Since this plan yields no results, the Brahmin decides to stage a “live bait” operation: he orders Lakmé to sing so that her wondrous voice gathers the entire festive crowd. Then he will recognize his enemy by their eyes.
Lakmé’s enchanting legend of the pariah’s daughter indeed draws all onlookers. Gérald and Frédéric also appear. When the Brahmin’s daughter sees Gérald close by, she exclaims and reveals herself. Now Nilakantha knows whom to avenge. He gathers allies and decides to attack Gérald in the evening amid the hustle and bustle of the procession with the statue of Durga. Lakmé contemplates how to save the young man she has come to love. The faithful Hadji promises her support and help, even against Nilakantha’s will. Gérald, who has escaped from the bothersome Frédéric and from his fiancée, arrives. He declares his love to Lakmé, whose sole thought is to protect her beloved from her father’s dire intentions.
Evening falls. Ellen, Rose, Miss Bentson, and Frédéric come to witness the festive procession. The entire crowd follows the parade, leaving Gérald alone; he is preoccupied with thoughts of Lakmé. Seizing the moment, Nilakantha wounds his enemy.

Act III
In the pre-dawn hours, Lakmé and Hadji have hidden the wounded Gérald within the vast pedestal of the statue of the threeheaded elephant, the Hindu god Ganesha. Utilizing medicinal plants, Lakmé stops the bleeding and prepares a healing potion that swiftly restores Gérald’s vitality.
Gradually, dawn approaches. Lovers, as per tradition before marriage, come to drink water from the sacred spring in the park the morning after the festival of Durga. Lakmé wishes to bring some of this water for Gérald. She believes that if they drink together from the sacred cup, the gods will forever bind their destinies.
Frédéric, who has been exhaustively searching for his friend, notices Lakmé as she steps out from their haven. Once he confirms that Gérald is alive, he wants to take him away. But the young man refuses; he is content with Lakmé, and even reminders of his fiancée and his obligations fail to persuade him. However, the sounds of the approaching crew, set to demolish Nilakantha’s house at sunrise, sober Gérald, and he realizes that it is indeed better for him to leave.
Returning, Lakmé offers the sacred cup to her beloved, but she notices a fatal change in him. The approaching machinery is about to destroy her home. Lakmé realizes that Gérald is somehow involved in all this, and in despair, she swallows several lethal seeds of the nearby datura plant.
Gérald sees his beloved’s grief and finally drinks with her from the sacred cup, but the girl weakens before his eyes. Nilakantha appears. Seeing his enemy, he wants to finish what he started. However, the Lakmé forbids her father from threatening Gérald: after the ritual, his life is under the protection of the gods. Meanwhile, Lakmé slowly fades in the arms of her beloved.


At least one fragment of Léo Delibes's Lakmé opera is universally known: the moment when two enchanting Indian girls, venturing out for lotuses, begin the Duo des fleurs enveloping the audience in a thrill of recognition. Like floral pollen this captivating melody has dispersed through commercials and soundtracks but Delibes generously bestowed upon his opera many more ear-caressing tunes that rival the famous hit and make it worth experiencing the opera in its entirety. Beyond the renowned Duo des fleurs the stage resonates with passionate duets of confession, soulful arias, enigmatic choral prayers, the striking dance melodies of the bayadères, and even vaudevillian verses. The opera's showpiece is the incredibly virtuosic Bell Song aria of Lakmé demands a fantastically agile voice and crystal-clear intonation on stratospheric high notes.
The orchestra in Lakmé is splendid, delicately supporting the soloists, singing along with them, creating almost tangible images of entrancing nature, and unfolding a vibrant picture of the market bustle. The love story of the British officer and the Brahmin's daughter, true to the genre, ends sadly, and while particularly sensitive viewers may shed a tear at the finale, the Lakmé opera leaves an exceptionally bright impression.
Sergei Novikov presented his vision of Lakmé in 2022 at the Krasnoyarsk State Opera and Ballet Theatre. The director transposed the setting to a contemporary city where Indian culture occupies just a small enclave. In Delibes's romantic masterpiece the director heard echoes of events flaring up in today's megacities. He poses a question about the necessity of attention and gentle treatment towards each other, otherwise even those we love can be fatally hurt.


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