Lakmé

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LAKMÉ

Composer: Léo Delibes

Libretto: Edmond Gondinet & Philippe Gille

Based on the novel Le Mariage de Loti by Pierre Loti

First Produced: Opéra Comique Paris, 1883

Present Company: Opera-Australia, 2011

Director: Roger Hodgman

Sets & Costumes: Mark Thompson

Video Director: Cameron Kirkpatrick

Audio Director: Tony David Cray

Orchestra: Australia Opera & Ballet Orchestra

Conductor: Emmanuel Joel-Hormak

 

Cast:

Lakmé: Emma Matthews

Gerald: Aldo Di Toro

Nilakantha: Stephen Bennett

Frederic: Luke Gabbedy

Mistress Benson: Roxane Hislop

Ellen: Jane Parkin

Mallika: Dominica Matthews

Hadji: Edmond Choo

Rose: Angela Brun


Specs:

Resolution: 1080i

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Disc size: BD-50

Opera: 41.44 GB

Bit Rate: High (36-39 Mbps)

French DTS-HD MA 5.1

French LPCM 2.0 stereo

Subtitles: French, Italian, English, German & Spanish

Region: All

Opera runtime: 136 minutes

Opera Australia 2012

 

Grade

Conception & Staging: A-

Costumes: A

Casting: A-

Singing: B

Orchestra: A

Music Direction: A

Video Direction: A

Image: A

Audio: A-

Extras Features: C

Recommendation: A-


 

Comment

Leo Delibes, a late nineteenth century French composer most well known today for two ballets, the effervescent Coppélia and the bucolic Sylvia, and two numbers from his only opera still in the repertory.  One of these is a duet for two women, immortalized in film in Tony Scott’s 1983 The Hunger, and it is without a doubt the most sensuous duet of it kind this side of Venus, for love and loyalty is what it is about.  In the opera it is sung by a princess and her slave; and it is thus in Tony Scott’s movie, though in the film it is heard on the soundtrack while a vampire queen played by Catherine Deneuve seduces scientist Susan Sarandon.  The other number in the opera is Lakme’s scintillating and impossibly difficult “Bell Song” (Où va la jeune Hindoue?).  A coloratura showpiece, in the hands (!) of a Mado Robin or Lily Pons, it is a marvel.  I can’t say why but I really didn’t think Miss Matthews would pull it off.  But she’s rather good, despite that she’s older and more robust than I imagine the character.


        

 

The opera itself, like Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, Puccini’s Turandot and, its way, Gilbert  & Sullivan’s The Mikado, responds to what the occident felt about the orient in that time. In Lakmé, the time and place is the British raj a few decades earlier than the composition of the opera.  Lakmé is a Brahman princess whose sect has been driven underground by the British raj.  Gerald, a British officer accompanied by friends and the woman he expects to marry, happens on the scene more as a tourist than a soldier.  Lakmé and Gerald meet, and after a moment of trepidation on her part fall in love.  What particularly strikes her about him as how fearlessly he addresses her, mistakenly seeing this as god-sent when he is merely British. Needless to say this doesn’t sit at all well with Nilakantha, Lakmé’s father and local high priest.  In a struggle, Gerald is wounded, but Lakmé secretly nurses him back to health.  From here on, it’s Madama Butterfly, more or less – except, of course, that the Puccini opera followed Lakmé by 20 years.


        

 

The first thing we notice about this video after an initial concern that our projector bulb is on the way out - it turns out things brighten soon after Lakmé makes her entrance - is the remarkable restraint demonstrated by the video director, Cameron Kirkpatrick - to a fault, one might say.  Right from the outset, he allows the camera to linger and pull back some to include a relevant supporting character in the shot. Remarkably, there are relatively few extreme close-ups.  Contrariwise, it takes a moment to get one’s bearings, so used we are to rapid cutting.  In fact, in the duet for Lakmé and Mallika there is only one cut, and that at the end of the first verse.  If it didn’t work we might accuse Mr. Kirkpatrick of laziness.  Reds and greens especially are deeply saturated, popping nicely when spotlit.  The extraordinarily large color palette of the art direction comes through beautifully. This is lovely looking video presentation. The subtitles are clear, a bit large for my taste, and always centered at the bottom of the frame even when they cover the only people on the frame.

 

The orchestra is rich and dynamic, mostly directed forward than to the sides, even in the surround mix (as is my preference), so extra high marks here. The voices are liquid and unrestrained and unstrained with a little less of the usual projected-from-the-stage presence that we usually get in opera high-definition surround.  The stereo mix is interesting in how it balances voices with orchestra. Very listenable.  The soprano duet in the first act and the Bell Song are ripe and not at all anemic.  The chorus is very sweet, almost magical. 


    

 

As for the singers, I have already remarked on our heroine.  Aldo Di Toro’s Gerald gets off to a tentative start, but once in his comfortable higher tessitura, he remains in good voice for the rest of the opera – though tenors singing in French almost always sound reedier than in any other language to me.  I don’t much care for Stephen Bennett’s Nilakantha – he’s the only weak member of the cast; though he makes a pleasant sound, he is unable to deliver in his upper register and substitutes stiffness for authority in both singing and acting. Luke Gabbedy’s Frédéric is in command of a warm bass, a little unsteady at first, and in his stand and deliver manner, doesn’t threaten Gerald as the dominant, if hopelessly misguided male.  Roxane Hislop’s Mistress Benson is a comic delight.  And Dominica Matthews’ warm mezzo blends beautifully with Emma Matthews in their loving duet, even if there is lacking the necessary erotic appeal we would find with good native French singers. The only weakness here is inherent in the medium, noticeable mostly in Matthew’s high notes: a certain lack of overtone purity, making for a somewhat plastic sound. The theater audience can’t wait to put in their two cents at the end of each aria, once prematurely.


        

 

The main bonus feature is a six or seven minute segment featuring stage director Roger Hodgman, who talks about how he approached his presentation of Lakmé given its being based on an earlier production.  He adds some relevant comments about the opera and its history.  A Cast Gallery rounds off this rather anemic collection of bonus features.

 

Despite the light menu of bonus features, this Blu-ray from Australia gets very good marks: the singing cast, with only one exception, is very good; the sets and costumes are sumptuous and screen filling; the audio clear, well-balanced, and dynamic; the high bit rate helps realize all those bold colors; and the video direction is, for a change, relaxed.  Lakmé is a curious piece.  It remains intimate despite its tableau-rich staging.  It looks big, but sounds small - something like Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio.  It’s easy on the ears and a wonder to look at.  Warmly recommended, aside from the one standout weakness in the singing cast.


        



Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

May 7, 2012



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