Lakmé
  • Léo Delibes. Opéra in three acts. 1882.
  • Libretto by Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille, after the novel Rarahu by Pierre Loti.
  • First performance by the Opéra-Comique at the Salle Favart, Paris, on 14th April 1883.
CHARACTERS
Nilakantha, a Brahmin priest bass-baritone
Lakmé, his daughter soprano
Mallika, her slave mezzo-soprano
Hadji, servant of Nilakantha tenor
Frédéric, an English officer baritone
Gérald, an English officer tenor
Miss Ellen, his fiancée soprano
Rose, her cousin soprano
Mistress Benson, their governess mezzo-soprano

In British India the young English officer Gérald falls in love with Lakmé, daughter of the Brahmin priest Nilakantha, who harbours feelings of hatred towards the British. Nilakantha is angry at the pollution of his land by the intruder and sets his daughter to attract the man by her singing. This she does, and when Gérald, in the market-place, rushes forward to help her as she faints, Nilakantha stabs him. Gérald is tended in the forest in secret by Hadji, a servant loyal to Lakmé, who aids him in his task. She goes to bring water from the sacred spring to confirm their love, but Frédéric appears, reminding Gérald of his duty. He resolves to obey and Lakmé poisons herself, leaving Gérald, as she dies, to drink the sacred water that would have united them.

Lakmé incorporates in its story a fashionably exotic element, a reflection of the writing of Pierre Loti. The work enjoyed a popular place in operatic repertoire for many years, while Lakmé’s duet with Mallika, Sous le dôme épais (Beneath the thick dome), has enjoyed recent disproportionate success, for extraneous reasons. Equally famous is the Bell Song, Où va la jeune indoue? (Where does the young Indian girl go?), sung by Lakmé in the market-place, as she obeys her father’s command to attract the man who has profaned his temple.