Lakmé at the Opéra Comique

Lakmé is one of those operas which are famous – everyone has heard of, if not actually heard, the “bell” aria” – but are rarely performed. So its appearance at the Paris Opéra Comique justified a visit. Now if you can relish the late 19th century’s rather simple fascination with Asian exoticism, as in The Mikado or the Pearl Fishers, you will enjoy this piece. Even if, like me, you find that a bit tiresome, you can still derive pleasure from its melodic charms, particularly when the performance has, in the leading roles, two young singers, who are ideal for this repertory.

The Lakmé, Sabine Deveilhe, has a wonderfully pure coloratura soprano and had the audience spellbound by her perfectly executed head notes; she also convinced with her dramatic interpretation. Now at the beginning of her career, she will certainly go very far. Frédéric Antoun as her British officer lover has a fine tenor which fully met the demands of the part and was true to the style and idiom of French romanticism.

While the production drew attention to the conflict between Hindu culture and British colonialism which lies at the centre of this work, it was too tame and conventional in approach. Only in the last act did it come alive when, having dispensed with all the bric-a-brac of the Hindu rites and the chorus which went with them, it was able to focus on Lakmé’s hopeless passion and thereby provide some dramatic impact.