Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is that rare thing, a French opera with a largely Francophone cast. But then it is hard to imagine Lakmé being recorded any other way: Delibes’s operatic masterpiece is a model of French fluency and elegance. Indeed, there are times when these elements seem more important than any sense of strong drama, but the score is rich enough in its orchestration and melodies to captivate the listener. The setting is colourful: 19th-century India, peopled by Brahmin priests and English colonials, both of which must have seemed highly exotic to the Parisian audience at the work’s 1883 premiere. In spite of a creaky plot, Lakmé has recently had a successful revival on various stages in France, with Natalie Dessay in the title role;
the part can have had few better interpreters, for Dessay is capable of both the most dazzling coloratura and colouring her voice, and the famous ‘Bell Song’ emerges as a wonderful piece of story-telling rather than mere display. Dessay is a more alluring heroine than either Sutherland (Decca) or Mesplé (EMI again) on the two previously standard recordings. With Gregory Kunde a fluent Gerald, José Van Dam a Nilakantha of imposing presence, and the score paced with real style by Michel Plasson, this is an outstanding set. Performance: 5 (out of 5), Sound: 5 (out of 5)
-- John Allison, BBC Music Magazine
Delibes’ perfumed score for Lakmé is somewhat of an acquired taste. Its lyricism occasionally embarrasses: the lovely duet for Lakmé and her companion Mallika that shows up just 10 minutes into the opera has been used for so many ads (British Airways comes to mind first, but there have been others) that it seems hackneyed—it takes a second of hearing it in context to realize how beautiful it is.
Dessay is a miraculous singer (and was at her best at this stage of her career—in 1995), one of the few stratospherically placed voices that almost never loses its warmth—not even above high-C. And because her technique is so impeccable, Dessay can articulate the text (it helps that she’s French, of course) at any range as well, and she makes Lakmé into something far more than a piece of delightful, fruity pie. Her “Bell Song” is a knockout, as rightly it should be.
Gregory Kunde is a sensitive singer, with a sweet, even range and a nice sense of line, legato, and the language, and Jose van Dam, just past his prime, is still wonderfully effective as Nilakantha, Lakmé’s overly careful dad. The others in the cast, as well as the Toulouse forces, are terrific under Plasson’s baton—there are many places where he could opt for bathos but does not.
-- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Lakmé by Léo Delibes
Natalie Dessay (Soprano),
Gregory Kunde (Tenor),
José Van Dam (Bass Baritone),
Delphine Haidan (Mezzo Soprano),
Franck Leguérinel (Baritone),
Patricia Petibon (Soprano),
Xenia Konsek (Soprano),
Bernadette Antoine (Soprano),
Charles Burles (Tenor),
Alain Chilemme (),
Jean-Pierre Lautre (),
Yves Boudier ()
Toulouse Capitole Orchestra,
Toulouse Capitole Chorus
Written: 1883; France
Date of Recording: 1997
Venue: Halle-Aux-Grains, Toulouse, France
Length: 143 Minutes 55 Secs.
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