Lakmé. That name freaks me out because the Bell Song is pretty much impossible: it is super long at over 8 minutes of non-stop singing, the slight variations in patterns are a pain to learn, it’s very high, AND the first section is pretty much unaccompanied so your intonation needs to be spot-on in order to avoid an embarrassing moment when the orchestra finally comes back in. Not. Ready. For. This. Yet.
So it’s a good thing Bell Song is in Act 2 and we’re only doing Act 1 for opera scenes.
I’m really glad I’m getting to know Lakmé beyond the Bell Song and, of course, the Flower Duet. Both are beautiful, but there’s so much more gorgeous music to Lakmé than just those 2 hits. There isn’t a single page of Act 1 that isn’t intriguing, entertaining, thought-provoking, mysterious, and/or full of life. Did you know Lakmé has a lovely aria aside from Bell Song? Here’s a translation:
The flowers seem more beautiful.
The sky is more resplendent.
The woods have some new songs.
The breeze that blows is more caressing.
I do not know what perfume intoxicates me.
Everything quivers, and I begin to live.
Why in the great forest do I love to stray,
and there weep?
Why am I saddened by the song of a dove,
By a faded flower, a falling leaf?
And yet these tears have some charm for me,
I feel happy.
Why seek a meaning
in the murmuring of the water in the reeds?
Why do I feel these sensual feelings in this place,
Like a divine breath
that perfumes my senses and passes?
Sometimes my mouth smiles in spite of myself,
I feel happy.
There’s also a tumultuous duet with Gerald, the British love-interest, that I found fascinating. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the momentum. Gerald, so entranced by the magic of India and of Lakmé, sings beautiful flowing melodies throughout the scene, but Lakmé’s music really shows her struggle. For most of the duet, she tries to push Gerald away with threats, warnings, and pleas – her phrases are often built on repeated, chromatic, rising pitches and with rising/falling figures that contribute more to a feeling of growing tension rather than forming a clear musical identity. She does not get to sing a recognizable, catchy melody until she accepts Gerald’s words that Love is the god of youth and springtime, the god that caresses lovers with kisses and makes the roses bloom everyday. The duet culminates with both of them finally singing in unison the melody introduced by Gerald, Lakmé having given into his passion and enthusiasm. It really is fantastic. Lakmé finally convinces Gerald to leave when she hears her father returning, and Gerald’s closing “O, douce vision!” is so over-the-top hopeful and romantic that it makes me grin even though I know there isn’t much to smile about in the next 2 acts.
The entire Sydney Opera House performance with Joan Sutherland is available on youtube – go watch!
2 rehearsals in and 1 coaching in, and it’s starting to click into place. Aside from about 2 sections of recit that I always seem to skip when looking through the score and maybe 2 entrances, I know what the notes are supposed to be. My note-learning phase turned out a little shorter than I first expected when I saw how many pages Act 1 was (but part of that is because I get a nice break in the middle of the act when the British party takes over for some spirited singing). Now I just have to figured out how to not die during my first 5 pages, which consists of repeated D5, F5, B5.