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.]