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

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Léo Delibes French composer

Clément Philibert Léo Delibes was a French composer of the Romantic era (1815–1910), who specialised in ballets, operas, and other works for the stage. His most notable works include the ballets Coppélia (1870) and Sylvia (1876), as well as the operas Le roi l'a dit (1873) and Lakmé (1883).

Libretto text used for an extended musical work

A libretto is the text used in, or intended for, an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata or musical. The term libretto is also sometimes used to refer to the text of major liturgical works, such as the Mass, requiem and sacred cantata, or the story line of a ballet.


The score, written from 1881–1882, 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 I), Eugène Louis Carpezat and (Joseph-)Antoine Lavastre (Act II), and Jean-Baptiste Lavastre (Act III). Set in British India in the mid-19th century, Lakmé is based on Théodore Pavie's story "Les babouches du Brahamane" and novel Le Mariage de Loti by Pierre Loti. [1]

Auguste Alfred Rubé French painter and designer

Auguste Alfred Rubé was a French painter.

Philippe Chaperon French painter, 1823-1907

Philippe Chaperon was a French painter and scenic designer, particularly known for his work at the Paris Opera. He produced stage designs for the premieres of numerous 19th-century operas, including Verdi's Don Carlos and Aida, Massenet's Le Cid, Saint-Saëns's Henri VIII, part two of Berlioz's Les Troyens and the first performances in France of Verdi's Otello and Rigoletto and Wagner's Tannhäuser.

Jean-Baptiste Lavastre French painter

Jean-Baptiste Lavastre was a French landscape painter and scenic designer.

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.

Brahmin is a varna (class) in Hinduism specialising as priests, teachers (acharya) and protectors of sacred learning across generations.

Lakshmi Hindu Goddess of Wealth and Fortune

Lakshmi or Laxmi, is the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity. She is the wife and shakti (energy) of Vishnu, one of the principal deities of Hinduism and the Supreme Being in the Vaishnavism Tradition. With Parvati and Saraswati, she forms Tridevi, the holy trinity. Lakshmi is also an important deity in Jainism and found in Jain temples. Lakshmi has also been a goddess of abundance and fortune for Buddhists, and was represented on the oldest surviving stupas and cave temples of Buddhism. In Buddhist sects of Tibet, Nepal and Southeast Asia, goddess Vasudhara mirrors the characteristics and attributes of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi with minor iconographic differences.

Aria musical piece for a single voice as part of a larger work

In music, an aria is a self-contained piece for one voice, with or without instrumental or orchestral accompaniment, normally part of a larger work.

Like other French operas of the period, Lakmé captures the ambience of the Orient seen through Western eyes, which was periodically in vogue during the latter part of the 19th century and in line with other operatic works such as Bizet's The Pearl Fishers and Massenet's Le roi de Lahore . [3] The subject of the opera was suggested by Gondinet as a vehicle for the American soprano Marie van Zandt. [2]

Orientalism Imitation or depiction of Eastern culture

In art history, literature and cultural studies, Orientalism is the imitation or depiction of aspects in the Eastern world. These depictions are usually done by writers, designers, and artists from the West. In particular, Orientalist painting, depicting more specifically "the Middle East", was one of the many specialisms of 19th-century academic art, and the literature of Western countries took a similar interest in Oriental themes.

Georges Bizet French composer

Georges Bizet, registered at birth as Alexandre César Léopold Bizet, was a French composer of the Romantic era. Best known for his operas in a career cut short by his early death, Bizet achieved few successes before his final work, Carmen, which has become one of the most popular and frequently performed works in the entire opera repertoire.

<i>Les pêcheurs de perles</i> opera by Georges Bizet

Les pêcheurs de perles is an opera in three acts by the French composer Georges Bizet, to a libretto by Eugène Cormon and Michel Carré. It was premiered on 30 September 1863 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris, and was given 18 performances in its initial run. Set in ancient times on the island of Ceylon, the opera tells the story of how two men's vow of eternal friendship is threatened by their love for the same woman, whose own dilemma is the conflict between secular love and her sacred oath as a priestess. The friendship duet "Au fond du temple saint", generally known as "The Pearl Fishers Duet", is one of the best-known in Western opera.

The Indian fashion brand Lakmé, established in 1952 by the Tata Group and now owned by Hindustan Unilever, is named after the opera.

Lakmé is an Indian cosmetics brand which is owned by Hindustan Unilever. Having Kareena Kapoor and Ananya Pandey as the ambassador, it ranked at number 1 among the cosmetics brands in India. Lakme started as a 100% subsidiary of Tata Oil Mills (Tomco). It was named after the French opera Lakmé, which itself is the French form of Lakshmi who is renowned for her beauty. It was started in 1952 famously, because then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was concerned that Indian women were spending precious foreign exchange on beauty products and personally requested JRD Tata to manufacture them in India. Simone Tata joined the company as director and went on to become the chairperson. In 1996, Tata sold off their stakes in Lakmé Lever to HUL, for Rs 200 Crore(45 million US$).

Tata Group Indian conglomerate

Tata Group is an Indian multinational conglomerate holding company headquartered in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. Founded in 1868 by Jamsetji Tata, the company gained international recognition after purchasing several global companies. One of India's largest conglomerates, Tata Group is owned by Tata Sons.

Hindustan Unilever Consumer goods company

Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) is a British-Dutch manufacturing company headquartered in Mumbai, India. Its products include foods, beverages, cleaning agents, personal care products, water purifiers and consumer goods.

Performance history

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. [4]

Théâtre de la Gaîté (rue Papin) theater

In 1862 during Haussmann's modernization of Paris the Théâtre de la Gaîté of the boulevard du Temple was relocated to the rue Papin across from the Square des Arts et Métiers. The new theatre, built in an Italian style to designs of the architects Jacques-Ignace Hittorff and Alphonse Cusin, opened on 3 September.

Alice Verlet singer

Alice Verlet was a Belgian-born operatic coloratura soprano active primarily in France. She sang principal roles at the operas in Lyon, Nice, and Monte Carlo; at His Majesty's Theater in London; at La Monnaie in Brussels; and at the Paris Opéra and Opéra-Comique. In the United States, although not entirely absent from the operatic stage, she was known primarily as a concert singer and was a featured singer on Edison records.

David Devriès was a French operatic lyric tenor noted for his light, heady tone, and polished phrasing. He represents a light style of French operatic singing that was popular in the 19th century.


Jean-Alexandre Talazac as Gerald Jean-Alexandre Talazac in Delibes' Lakme.jpg
Jean-Alexandre Talazac as Gérald
RoleVoice typePremiere cast, [4]
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 NilakanthatenorChennevière
Miss Ellen, fiancée of Gérald soprano Rémy
Miss Rose, companion of EllensopranoMolé-Truffier
Mistress Bentson, a governessmezzo-sopranoPierron
Fortune teller (Un Domben)tenorTeste
A Chinese merchanttenorDavoust
Le KouravarbaritoneBernard
Chorus: Officers, ladies, merchants, Brahmins, musicians


Place: India
Time: Late nineteenth century during the British Raj. Many Hindus have been forced by the British to practise their religion in secret.

Act 1

The Hindus go to perform their rites in a sacred Brahmin temple under the high priest, Nilakantha. Nilakantha's daughter Lakmé (which derives from the Sanskrit Lakshmi) and her servant Mallika are left behind and go down to the river to gather flowers where they sing the "Flower Duet". As they approach the water at the river bank, Lakmé removes her jewelry and places it on a bench. A party of British officers, Frederic and Gérald, arrive nearby while on a picnic with two British girls and their governess. The British girls see the jewelry and request sketches; Gérald volunteers to stay and make sketches of the jewelry. He sees 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 intrigued and so she sends away those who had responded to her call for help when they come to her rescue. Lakmé and Gérald begin to fall in love with each other. Nilakantha returns and learns of the British officer's trespassing and vows revenge on him for his affront to Lakmé's honor.

Act 2

At a 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 nurses him back to health.

Act 3

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


Original poster for Lakme Lakme.jpg
Original poster for Lakmé

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. [5] 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. [3]

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'e 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. [6] The aria 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. [7]

Musical numbers

Act 1

  • No. 1 Introduction: "À l'heure accoutumée (At the usual time)" (Nilakantha)
  • Prière: "Blanche Dourga (White Durga)" (Lakmé, Nilakantha)
  • No. 1 Bis – Scène: "Lakmé, c'est toi qui nous protège! (Lakmé, it is you who protect us!)" (Nilakantha, Lakmé)
  • No. 2 – Duetto (The 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)
  • Scène: "Miss Rose, Miss Ellen" (Gérald)
  • No. 3 – Quintette & couplets: "Quand une femme est si jolie (When a woman is so pretty)" (Gérald)
  • Récitatif: "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. 4 Bis – Scène: "Non! Je ne veux pas toucher (No! I do not want to touch)" (Gérald, Lakmé)
  • No. 5 – Récitatif & Strophes: "Les fleurs me paraissent plus belles (The flowers appear more beautiful to me)" (Lakmé)
  • No. 5 Bis – Récitatif: "Ah! Mallika! Mallika!" (Lakmé)
  • No. 6 – Duo: "D'où viens-tu? Que veux-tu? (Where are you from? What do you want?)" (Lakmé, Gérald)
  • No. 6 Bis – Scène: "Viens! Là! Là! (Come! There! There!)" (Nilakantha, Lakmé)

Act 2

  • Entr'acte
  • No. 7 – Choeur & Scène du marche: "Allons, avant que midi sonne (Come before noon sounds)"
  • No. 7 Bis – Récitatif: "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
  • Récitatif: "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. 9 Bis – Récitatif: "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. 12 Bis – Récitatif: "Le maître ne pense qu'à sa vengeance (The master thinks only of his revenge)"
  • No. 13 – Duo: "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

  • Entr'acte
  • No. 15 – Berceuse: "Sous le ciel tout étoilé (Beneath the star-filled sky)" (Lakmé)
  • No. 15 Bis – Récitatif: "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 – Duo: "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)


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  1. Charles P. D. Cronin and Betje Black Klier (1996), "Théodore Pavie's "Les babouches du Brahmane" and the Story of Delibes's Lakmé", Opera Quarterly 12 (4): 19–33.
  2. 1 2 3 "Lakmé by Leo Delibes" on Retrieved 15 January 2011
  3. 1 2 MacDonald H., "Lakmé", The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, London and New York: Macmillan: 1997.
  4. 1 2 Wolff S. Un demi-siècle d'Opéra-Comique. André Bonne, Paris, 1953.
  5. Lacombe H., The Keys to French Opera in the Nineteenth Century, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001.
  6. For example, The Hunger "'Horror! – Monsters, Witches & Vampires (Soundtrack)'". Silva America.
  7. "British Airways - Face". SplendAd. Archived from the original on 26 March 2015. Retrieved 26 March 2015.