“Lakmé ” is a romantic opera in three acts, the music, written by Léo Delibes. The words, by Goudinet and Gille, are taken from the story ” Le mariage de Loti.” It was first presented in Paris in 1883.
Lakmé, daughter of Nilakantha. Nilakantha, a Brahmin priest. Gerald, an English officer, lover of Lakmé. Frederick, a brother officer. Mallika, Hadji, slaves of Lakmé. Ellen, daughters of the viceroy. Rose, Mrs. Bentson, a governess. A fortune-teller. A Chinese merchant. A Sepoy. Hindoos, English officers and ladies, sailors, bayaderes, Chinamen, musicians, Brahmins.
The scene is laid in India and the choice of characters is in itself promising. Lakmé’s father; the Hindoo, hates with a mighty hatred, all foreigners. Quite naturally, the damsel falls in love with the first young Englishman who presents himself. This happens to be Gerald, who, with a party of English people, comes to the sacred grounds from the viceroy’s palace. Lakmé and Gerald encounter each other alone. The girl, who has been raised by a jealous father to know naught of the great world outside the bamboo enclosure, is completely fascinated by the charming stranger, while Gerald, ravished by the beauty of the girl and by the charm of her retreat with its tropical glory of lotus and rose, surrenders to what is to him an episode but to her is everything. They unfortunately are discovered by Lakmé’s furious father. The Englishman escapes his rage for the moment but ultimately falls a victim to his plotting. Nilakantha and his daughter disguise themselves as penitents and he requires the girl to sing in the market-place. As he has hoped, the lover at once recognizes the voice of his dear one and discloses himself. Nilakantha approaches him stealthily, stabs him in the back and flees, thinking his enemy dead. This hope is false, however, and in some fashion, Lakmé and her slave Hadji convey the wounded man to a luxurious bungalow in a jungle where every comfort is available. Here they conceal him and patiently nurse him back to health, the girl meanwhile dreaming fair dreams and hoping desperately that she may retain his love. With the characteristic superstition of her people, she leaves Gerald for a while to seek the sacred water which can make love eternal. While she is gone, the music of his regiment summons him to duty and the charms of his own world, among them a lovely English girl, call loudly to him. Their voices become irresistible when Frederick, who discovers him, adds his entreaties. When Lakmé returns and her beloved one’s very evident faithlessness mocks her hope of eternal love, she poisons herself with the flowers of the datura and goes to the arms of Brahma.
Delibes was little known save as a composer of exquisite ballet music until the appearance of this graceful work. In Lakmé, he used much of oriental color and always with rare good taste and skill. Especially appropriate is the scene in the jungle, which is filled with dreamy and sensuous charm. The opera suffers, however, from a sameness of coloring. Despite the beauty of many of its numbers it is apt to impress one as somewhat monotonous, when heard in its entirety. The duet for Lakmé and her slave, “‘Neath yon Dome,” is one of the finest pages in the score; Gerald’s passionate love-song, ” The God of Truth,” forms an effective incident of the first act; Nilakantha’s song, “Lakmé, thy soft looks,” has true pathos in it, while Lakmé’s ” Bell-song,” with its wealth of vocal ornamentation, is a piece of writing which not only forms the climax in brilliancy of the opera but has won triumphs for many a concert singer. Lakmé crooning “‘Neath the Dome ” is the gem of the third act.