Work: Lakmé: Bell Song
About This Work
Lakmé was based on a novel by Pierre Loti, with strong autobiographical elements inspired by a romance the author experienced while living in Tahiti. Rarahu, the woman involved, eventually died from alcoholism. The basic outline of the story
was retained, but Delibes transferred the story to India so that the cultural conflict could be one between the British and the Brahmin Hindus. And instead of alcohol being the cause of his heroine's downfall, Delibes chose as the means of her demise the poetic device of a poisonous flower, the datura (which outside of the operatic stage is not deadly).
The hinge-piece of the opera is the famous "Bell Song" (De la fille du paria). It is sung by Lakmé at the behest of her father, the Brahmin priest Nilakantha. Unbeknownst to her, he intends to use her beauty and beautiful singing to ensnare a trespasser. A British officer named Gérald is one of a group of Englishmen who has trespassed on holy ground despite a warning that this was forbidden on pain of death. He saw Lakmé and fell in love with her instantly, and she with him. Nilakantha observed the last part of their meeting, but fled without being clearly seen.
-- All Music Guide
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