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Opera by Léo Delibes
Original poster
Based onThéodore Pavie's story "Les babouches du Brahmane" and Pierre Loti's novel Le Mariage de Loti
14 April 1883 (1883-04-14)

Lakmé is an opera in three acts by Léo Delibes to a French libretto by Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille.

The score, written from 1881 to 1882, was first performed on 14 April 1883 by the Opéra-Comique at the (second) Salle Favart in Paris, with stage decorations designed by Auguste Alfred Rubé and Philippe Chaperon (act 1), Eugène Carpezat and (Joseph-) Antoine Lavastre (act 2), and Jean-Baptiste Lavastre (act 3). Set in British India in the mid-19th century, Lakmé is based on Théodore Pavie's story "Les babouches du Brahmane" (1849) and the novel Le Mariage de Loti (1880) by Pierre Loti.[1] Gondinet proposed it as a vehicle for the American soprano Marie van Zandt.[2]

The opera includes the popular "Flower Duet" ("Sous le dôme épais") for a soprano and mezzo-soprano, performed in act 1 by Lakmé, the daughter of a Brahmin priest, and her servant Mallika.[2] The name Lakmé is the French rendition of Sanskrit Lakshmi, the name of the Hindu Goddess of Wealth. The opera's most famous aria is the "Bell Song" ("L'Air des clochettes") in act 2.

Lakmé combines many orientalist aspects that were popular at the time:[3] an exotic location, similar to other French operas of the period, such as Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles and Massenet's Le roi de Lahore, a fanatical priest, mysterious Hindu rituals, and "the novelty of exotically colonial English people".[4]

Performance history[edit]

Following its premiere at the Opéra-Comique in 1883, Lakmé reached its 500th performance there on 23 June 1909 and 1,000th on 13 May 1931. A series of performances took place at the Théâtre Gaîté Lyrique Paris in 1908, with Alice Verlet, David Devriès and Félix Vieuille.[5]


Jean-Alexandre Talazac as Gérald
Roles, voice types, premiere cast
Role Voice type Premiere cast,[5] 14 April 1883
Conductor: Jules Danbé
Lakmé, a priestess, daughter of Nilakantha coloratura soprano Marie van Zandt
Gérald, a British army officer tenor Jean-Alexandre Talazac
Nilakantha, a Brahmin priest bass Cobalet
Frédéric, officer friend of Gérald baritone Barré
Mallika, slave of Lakmé mezzo-soprano Elisa Frandin
Hadji, slave of Nilakantha tenor Chennevière
Miss Ellen, fiancée of Gérald soprano Rémy
Miss Rose, companion of Ellen soprano Zoé Molé-Truffier
Mistress Bentson, a governess mezzo-soprano Pierron
Fortune teller (Un Domben) tenor Teste
A Chinese merchant tenor Davoust
Le Kouravar baritone Bernard
Chorus: Officers, ladies, merchants, Brahmins, musicians


Opéra-Comique, 2017
Place: India
Time: Late nineteenth century, during the British Raj.

Act 1[edit]

The Hindus go to perform their rites in a sacred Brahmin temple under the high priest, Nilakantha. Nilakantha's daughter Lakmé, and her servant Mallika, are left behind and go down to the river to gather flowers where they sing together the "Flower Duet". As they approach the water at the river bank, Lakmé removes her jewellery and places it on a bench. Two British officers, Frédéric and Gérald (Delibes uses Frenchified versions of the then common English names Frederick and Gerald), arrive nearby on a picnic with two British girls and their governess. The British girls see the jewellery and, impressed with it, request sketches of it; Gérald volunteers to stay and make sketches of the jewellery. He spots Lakmé and Mallika returning and hides. Mallika leaves Lakmé for a while; while alone Lakmé sees Gérald and, frightened by the foreigner's incursion, cries out for help. However, simultaneously, she is also intrigued by him and so she sends away those who had responded to her call for help when they come to her aid. Lakmé and Gérald begin to fall in love with each other. Nilakantha returns and learns of the British officer's trespassing, vowing revenge on him for what he assumes to be an affront to Lakmé's honour.

Act 2[edit]

At a busy bazaar, Nilakantha forces Lakmé to sing (the "Bell Song") in order to lure the trespasser into identifying himself. When Gérald steps forward, Lakmé faints, thus giving him away. Nilakantha stabs Gérald, wounding him. Lakmé takes Gérald to a secret hideout in the forest, where she lovingly nurses him back to health.

Act 3[edit]

While Lakmé fetches sacred water that will confirm the vows of the lovers, Fréderic, Gérald's fellow British officer, appears before Gérald and reminds him of his military duty to his regiment. Gérald sadly accepts that his colleague is correct. After Lakmé returns, she senses the change in Gérald and realises that she has lost him. She dies with honour, rather than live with dishonour, killing herself by eating the poisonous datura leaf.


In conventional form and pleasant style, but given over to the fashion for exoticism, the delicate orchestration and melodic richness earned Delibes a success with audiences.[6] The passionate elements of the opera are given warm and expressive music, while the score in general is marked by subtle harmonic colours and deft orchestration. Oriental colour is used in prayers, incantations, dances and the scene in the market.[4]

The act 2 aria "Où va la jeune Hindoue?" (the Bell Song) has long been a favourite recital piece for coloratura sopranos. (Recordings of it in Italian, as "Dov'è l'indiana bruna?", also exist.)

In recent years, the Flower Duet in act 1 has become familiar more widely because of its use in advertisements, in particular a British Airways commercial,[2] as well as in films.[7] The duet sung by Lakme and Mallika was adapted for the theme "Aria on air" for the British Airways "face" advertisements of the 1980s by music composers Yanni and Malcolm McLaren.[8]

Musical numbers[edit]

  • Prelude

Act 1[edit]

  • No. 1 Introduction: "À l'heure accoutumée" (At the usual time) (Nilakantha)
  • Prayer: "Blanche Dourga" (White Durga) (Lakmé, Nilakantha)
  • No. 1b – Scene: "Lakmé, c'est toi qui nous protège!" (Lakmé, it is you who protect us!) (Nilakantha, Lakmé)
  • No. 2 – Duet (Flower Duet): "Viens, Mallika, les lianes en fleurs ... Dôme épais, le jasmin" (Come Mallika, the lianas in bloom ... The jasmine forms a dense dome) (Lakmé, Mallika)
  • Scene: "Miss Rose, Miss Ellen" (Gérald)
  • No. 3 – Quintet & couplets: "Quand une femme est si jolie" (When a woman is so pretty) (Gérald)
  • Recitative: "Nous commettons un sacrilège" (We are committing sacrilege) (Gérald)
  • No. 4 – Air: "Prendre le dessin d'un bijou" (Make a drawing of a jewel) (Gérald)
  • No. 4b – Scene: "Non! Je ne veux pas toucher" (No! I do not want to touch) (Gérald, Lakmé)
  • No. 5 – Recitative & Strophes: "Les fleurs me paraissent plus belles" (The flowers appear more beautiful to me) (Lakmé)
  • No. 5b – Recitative: "Ah! Mallika! Mallika!" (Lakmé)
  • No. 6 – Duet: "D'où viens-tu? Que veux-tu?" (Where are you from? What do you want?) (Lakmé, Gérald)
  • No. 6b – Scene: "Viens! Là! Là!" (Come! There! There!) (Nilakantha, Lakmé)

Act 2[edit]

  • Entr'acte
  • No. 7 – Chorus & March: "Allons, avant que midi sonne" (Come before noon sounds)
  • No. 7b – Recitative: "Enfin! Nous aurons du silence!" (Finally! We will have silence!)
  • No. 8 – Airs de danse: Introduction
  • No. 8 – Airs de danse: Terana
  • No. 8 – Airs de danse: Rektah
  • No. 8 – Airs de danse: Persian
  • No. 8 – Airs de danse: Coda avec Choeurs
  • No. 8 – Airs de danse: Sortie
  • Recitative: "Voyez donc ce vieillard" (So see that old man)
  • No. 9 – Scène & Stances: "Ah! Ce vieillard encore!"" (Ah! That old man again!) (Nilankantha, Lakmé)
  • No. 9b – Recitative: "Ah! C'est de ta douleur" (Ah! It's your pain) (Lakmé, Nilankantha)
  • No. 10 – Scène & Légende de la fille du Paria (Air des Clochettes/The Bell Song):
    "Ah!... Par les dieux inspires... Où va la jeune Hindoue" (Ah... Inspired by the gods... Where is the Hindu girl going) (Lakmé, Nilankantha)
  • No. 11 – Scène: "La rage me dévore" (Rage consumes me) (Nilankantha, Lakmé)
  • No. 12 – Scène & Choeur: "Au milieu des chants d'allegresse" (Amid chants of cheerfulness) (Nilankantha, Lakmé)
  • No. 12b – Recitative: "Le maître ne pense qu'à sa vengeance" (The master thinks only of his revenge)
  • No. 13 – Duet: "Lakmé! Lakmé! C'est toi!" (Lakmé! Lakmé! It's you!) (Lakmé, Gérald)
  • No. 14 – Finale: "O Dourga, toi qui renais" (O Durga, you who are reborn) (Gérald)

Act 3[edit]

  • Entr'acte
  • No. 15 – Berceuse: "Sous le ciel tout étoilé" (Beneath the star-filled sky) (Lakmé)
  • No. 15b – Recitative: "Quel vague souvenir alourdit ma pensée?" (What vague memory weighs down my thought?) (Gérald, Lakmé)
  • No. 16 – Cantilène: "Lakmé! Lakmé! Ah! Viens dans la forêt profonde" (Lakmé! Lakmé! Ah! Come into the deep forest) (Gérald)
  • No. 17 – Scène & Choeur: "Là, je pourrai t'entendre (There I will be able to hear you) (Lakmé, Gérald)
  • No. 18 – Scène: "Vivant!" (Alive!) (Gérald)
  • No. 19 – Duet: "Ils allaient deux à deux" (They went two by two) (Lakmé, Gérald)
  • No. 20 – Finale: "C'est lui! C'est lui!" (It's him! It's him!) (Nilankantha, Lakmé, Gérald)




In film[edit]


  1. ^ Charles P. D. Cronin and Betje Black Klier (1996), "Théodore Pavie's 'Les babouches du Brahmane' and the Story of Delibes's Lakmé", The Opera Quarterly 12 (4): 19–33.
  2. ^ a b c "Lakmé by Leo Delibes", NPR. Retrieved 15 January 2011
  3. ^ Huebner, Steven (12 March 2020). "1883. Lakmé, genre et orientalisme". Nouvelle Histoire de la Musique en France (1870–1950) (in French).
  4. ^ a b MacDonald, Hugh (2002). "Lakmé". Grove Music Online. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.O005082. (subscription required)
  5. ^ a b Wolff, Stéphane. Un demi-siècle d'Opéra-Comique. André Bonne, Paris, 1953.
  6. ^ Lacombe, Hervé. The Keys to French Opera in the Nineteenth Century, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001.
  7. ^ For example, The Hunger "Horror! – Monsters, Witches & Vampires (Soundtrack)". Silva America.
  8. ^ "British Airways – Face". SplendAd. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  9. ^ "Joan Sutherland, Lakmé, operadis-opera-discography.
  10. ^ Sennwald, Andre (29 November 1935). "Lily Pons Makes Her Debut in I Dream Too Much, at the Music Hall – In Old Kentucky". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 October 2019.(subscription required)
  11. ^ Lents, Robert J. (2014). Gloria Grahame, Bad Girl of Film Noir. McFarland. p. 42. ISBN 9780786487226.
  12. ^ "The Hunger soundtrack", imdb.com. Retrieved 4 February 2020
  13. ^ "Watch Aida Garifullina perform the Bell Song, from Florence Foster Jenkins". The Guardian. 17 May 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2019.

External links[edit]