Notes and Editorial Reviews
Also available on CD and Blu-ray
An English lieutenant chances on the daughter of a Brahmin priest as she gathers flowers by the water. It is love at first sight. How long can their love survive when they come from such different worlds?
One of Australia’s most acclaimed and awarded singers, soprano Emma Matthews, stars as Lakmé, alongside internationally acclaimed tenor Aldo Di Toro as Gerald, the love-struck officer. Rounding out a fabulous cast is the multi-award-winning mezzo- soprano Dominica Matthews singing Lakmé’s servant Mallika.
The production is a
masterpiece of scenic art, inspired by traditional Hindu painting. For all its gaudy detail and vibrant costumes, however, nothing in this production outdazzles the music, which includes the heavenly ‘Flower duet’ and one of the ultimate star turns of the coloratura repertoire, the famous ‘Bell Song’.
Famous for its ravishing Flower Duet and exquisite Bell Song, this colourful production of Delibes’ ever-popular opera Lakmé is directed by Roger Hodgman, winner of two Green Room Awards. Renowned conductor Emmanuel Joel-Hornak vividly brings to life the magic of Delibes’ marvelous score. Set and costume designer Mark Thompson created stunning costumes and backdrops.
R E V I E W:
Emmanuel Joel-Hornak, cond; Emma Matthews (
); Aldo di Toro (
); Stephen Bennett (
); Dominica Matthews (
); Luke Gabbedy (
); Roxane Hislop (
); Australian Op/Ballet O
OPERA AUSTRALIA 56020 (DVD: 143:00) Live: Sydney 08/2011
Poor Lakmé! Not only did she end up loving a caddish member of the Raj elite, but her once popular opera has lost so much status that it’s now a genuine rarity on stage. Yet its libretto is no better or worse than many others of its time and place, and its theme of a military officer first falling for and then abandoning a native woman differs little in many respects from
Madama Butterfly. Lakmé
’s dénouement has sometimes been listed as the cause of its modern disdain, but I submit that eating a poisonous leaf to commit suicide is less inherently ridiculous than building your living room around a huge tree with a sword stuck in it. With three musical hits and much else that’s worth hearing, it certainly deserves a new DVD to replace the 35-year-old one that features Joan Sutherland, and hasn’t much else to command attention.
Which is why I was pleased to hear that Opera Australia’s
was going to be released in both DVD and CD formats. I can’t claim to know the ways Adam Cook’s production has changed under director Roger Hodgman, but he moves his people naturally, providing motivations for activity and facial expression when they have to sing at length while standing in place (which happens quite a bit), and gets them to act in character—as in act I, scene 3, when the British officers solicitously help the women of their party move through the undergrowth. The colorful sets and costumes by Mark Thompson are outstanding, with something of the line and bejeweled character of Edmund Dulac’s illustrations. (This is an opera that simply could not survive a modern “jettison the sets and props” treatment.) Nigel Levings’s lighting design deserves praise, too. The opening of the opera takes place at daybreak, and the slow progress of color changes both on the horizon through the sets and on the cast are managed effectively.
On to the cast. Aldo di Toro is very fine, combining an especially honeyed midrange with a heft that suggests a
. He plays it carefully on the higher notes of “Fantaisie,” where the voice sounds unsettled at least on the night of this recording, but delivers a melting G? at the conclusion. Emma Matthews is better still, possessing a bright, appealing lyric soprano, evenly produced and full of character throughout her range. She manages the Bell Song with charm and the coloratura with relative ease, if not with the pearl-like tone of Lily Pons; but the delicacy and variety of “Pourquoi dans les grands bois” as well as Lakmé’s death scene bring still greater pleasure. Both di Toro and Matthews enunciate with care.
For the rest, Stephen Bennett sings well but phrases stiffly, with little feeling for the language. By contrast, Luke Gabbedy has the language down, but his baritone lacks chest resonance and suffers from spread. Roxane Hislop, whom I enjoyed as Hebe in Opera Australia’s
, does a fine comic turn as Mistress Bentson. Dominica Matthews must have been caught off-form, as this young, respected mezzo’s tone already displays a widening vibrato as she moves up in her range, and there’s little attempt to vary volume. This makes the duet “Dôme épais le jasmine” prosaic, with little sense of blend between the voices, or subtlety in phrasing. The rest of the cast is solid, and Emmanuel Joel-Hornak displays both energy and a refined handling of the work’s coloration. It helps that the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra is an excellent ensemble; but speaking of ballet—what happened to that of act II? It’s completely missing from this production.
Cameron Kirkpatrick’s camerawork is first-rate. He moves in for close-ups as needed, but doesn’t neglect the importance of long and medium shots to include active vocalists, and to repeatedly refer to the sets for mood. And wonder of wonders, he keeps focused on the people who are in turn the current focus of the music, instead of seeking new faces to film every three seconds.
Audio formats are available in LPCM stereo and DTS surround. The video format is 16:9, and subtitles are provided in English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian. Aside from a cast gallery, there’s a 6:30 interview with Hodgman discussing the plot. Neither is particularly interesting.
Some viewers will point (rightly) to the superiority of Sutherland’s agility in the Bell Song, though it is accomplished at the expense of linguistically undifferentiated sounds, and Torangeau is better than Domenica Matthews. Then there’s the ballet, or lack of same; but otherwise, I think this version is clearly the superior of the two in all respects. Hats off to Opera Australia, then.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Lakmé by Léo Delibes
Stephen Bennett (Bass),
Emma Matthews (Soprano),
Aldo di Toro (Tenor),
Edmond Choo (Tenor),
Dominica Matthews (Mezzo Soprano),
Luke Gabbedy (Bass)
Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra,
Opera Australia Chorus
Written: 1883; France
Be the first to review this title