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Saturday, September 27, 2014

You DO Lakme, Don't You Mallika?

Because there was a big concert in Paris this year, at which one of my favorite Léo Delibes pieces was performed under strobe and party lights in the garden of humanity that Paris is, I decided to trot this old post out from a few years back and add a clip of the recent performance. If you've never heard the Flower Duet in its entirety, I envy you the experience. It also has peripheral bearing on something I've thought a lot about lately and intend to write about soon: the effect of gamma rays upon atomic nuclei and why we dream. Please enjoy:

On my profile page I list the Flower Duet among my favorite music. I like it because it causes me to levitate when I hear it, but there's another reason I'll get to later.

The story itself is set in India under British occupation so, in keeping with opera-logic, it is sung entirely in French. French is a beautiful language. After decades of study, I understand every seventh or eighth word of it. This may affect the quality of my interpretation in horrible ways --of which I am happily ignorant.

Lakme is a soprano. Mallika, her servant, is a mezzo-soprano, which means they can also be friends in an opera --no hair-pulling, no tears, opera friends. The two ladies are on a riverbank and Lakme says the creepers are blooming. Mallika says that's very special and they launch into one of the most sublime barcarolles in human history.

They describe a dome thick with jasmine and roses, laughing flowers on the shore, spring sleeping on the other shore. They interrupt themselves only once to worry about Lakme's father going to town alone. Mallika wisely suggests they leave the old man to God while they go see swans and gather lotus. They do.

By my reckoning, the opera is mainly a romantic, cautionary tale about the toxicity of jimson weed. But this bit of it, this Flower Duet, is how I imagine angels sound discussing horticulture. That's the other reason I like Lakme, and to illustrate this enthusiasm have appended a specimen below.



[As an afterthought, I should mention the name, Mallika, means "jasmine" in Sanskrit, which is fitting. Lakme is also of Sanskrit origin and means "born in milk". I do not know what this has to do with anything except the role has always been awarded to mammals.]

13 comments:

  1. Opera grates on the nerves, raises the blood pressure, irritates the ear drums...I have no class. Someone should have gone with the poor old guy instead of being so everlasting selfish and foisting all that screeching on the rest of us.

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    1. Ah, it's not for everyone. I like it because it blends voices in such a wonderful way, but mostly because opera stories have a logic all their own. There is a surrealistic and dreamlike progress to to them that I find refreshing. I am also very hard of hearing and appreciate the performers excellent enunciation. But you're quite right about the odd screech here and there.

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  2. For me, the words sung in opera pass me by. But the music, the melodies? They are often heart-stoppingly beautiful.

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    1. In Lakme, you'll find much that is lovely --even though it is a tragedy like Romeo and Juliet. She ingests datura flowers (jimson weed here) at the end, but in opera such things do not detract from melodic excellence.

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    2. Having listened again to your clip (lovely!) I am reminded by the glittering sparkle on the Eiffel Tower that Lucy and I took a sunset boat trip along the Seine on the first night those sparkling lights were lit. Thank you for reminding me of that beautiful evening.

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  3. Me Laka! I learned to appreciate opera when I heard the late, wonderful Beverly Sills sing and every now and then go on an Mezzo or tenor binge. I still do love R&R, folk, jazz and the Blues, it all depends upon where my heart is that day.

    It is lovely, Geo.

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    1. Thanks Arleen. Sounds as though you enjoy a wide range of music, just Lakme.

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  4. And what a setting......under the Eiffel Tower, gathering dusk. Quite lovely clip, thanks for posting it.

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    1. My pleasure. July 14th is a very special day, deserving of a fine evening.

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  5. Absolutely beautiful, dude. To me, most opera music isn't just heard with the ears. It has a way of resonating in the heart, too.

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  6. Angels discussing horticulture: a beautiful image that does indeed match the sounds. Opera does have edge on the absurd, so naturally I like at least some of it. This bit I like a lot. Thank you sir :-) x

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