Somewhere in colonial India, dawn has broken, and the flowering vines are already casting shadows on the still, dark waters of the sacred stream, ushered along by the song of raucous birds. Beneath the dense dome of white jasmine and roses, all is peaceful as Cupid’s bow strikes the hearts of two lovers still asleep: she is the deified daughter of a rebellious Brahmin who spews vengeful hatred at the Hindus; he an officer in the victorious British army that drove the gods from their ancient temples. All it took was an exchange of glances, as fleeting as the tinkling of bells, to make them forget the world. But reality is about to shatter their dream.
First performed at the Opéra-Comique in 1883, Lakmé is rooted in Europe’s fascination with the Far East and the period of the colonial wars. Léo Delibes captures the timeless theme of forbidden love in the heady sensuality of his composition, which includes the popular Flower Duet and the Bell Song, brilliantly sung by coloratura soprano Sabine Devieilhe. The director Laurent Pelly has created a pared-back, symbolic and stylised world around her character, steeped in the tradition of Asian theatre and Chinese shadow puppetry. Steering clear of cheap exoticism, the production offers a universal interpretation of this masterpiece of the French repertoire, conducted by Guillaume Tourniaire.