East meets West: Lakmé comes to Montreal

Forbidden love is the theme of Léo Délibes’ opera Lakmé which kicks off Opéra de Montréal’s 34th season. On the menu this season: diversity.

“We are committed to bringing diversity to the masses and this season our mission is clear — the opera is an invitation to journey. We are combining styles, cultures and ideas,” said Pierre Vachon, director of communications.

Image still from YouTube.

Lakmé is being sponsored by the Kabir centre and its members will strut their stuff in saris on opening night.

Lakmé is a story of East meets West, where British officer Gerald falls in love with a priest’s Hindu daughter, Lakmé. When Lakmé’s father Nilakantha learns of his daughter’s relationship with the colonizing forces, he coerces Lakmé to sing in public so as to allure her lover. When Gerald steps forward, Nilakantha stabs him. Lakmé takes the wounded officer to a forest, nursing him back to health. In act three, Gerald’s friend, Frédéric, reminds Gerald of his sense of duty and notes that loving Lakmé is an act of betrayal. Lakmé senses the difference in Gerald’s demeanor and dies by eating a poisoned datura leaf, for she decides she would rather die in honour than live in dishonour.

For Vachon et al, the goal of the organization is to demystify the allure of opera and to take opera down a peg or two.

“Opera is for everyone,” Vachon insisted. “The idea that opera is only for the elite is a 20th century notion. We are here to show that opera can be enjoyed by everyone.”

For example, Opera Happenings-ARTV is a new series set up for 18-30-year-olds, where youngsters will be entertained with a DJ and VJ in a Lakmé-inspired setting. The first edition of this series took place on September 12 in the ARTV studio.

“We’re constantly searching for particular themes that bring exoticism to Montreal, so we’re leaning on colour and dazzle,” Vachon added, nodding at the installation of Bollywood-themed artifacts arranged for the dress rehearsal. The artifacts were provided by Opera Australia.

Behind Vachon, the mind-boggling installation of canary yellow flower garlands, a bronze god statue, fuschia-coloured saris, brass bowls and gold-rimmed pillows is hard to miss. If one thing is clear, it is that Lakmé is all about exoticism for this production.

Renowned for the timeless “Bell Song” and “The Flower Duet” arias, Lakmé brings together a formidable cast with both national and international singers, such as soprano Audrey Luna playing Lakmé, joined by tenor John Tessier cast as her lover, Gerald. Turkish bass Burak Bilgili plays Lakmé’s religious father Nilakantha and Dominique Côté sings Frederic, Gerald’s sidekick.

Côté shared some tidbits with The Concordian about the life of an opera singer.

“Things are going smoothly for this production,” said the relaxed-looking tenor. “Our stage director is so easy-going that we don’t feel any tension as production week approaches.”

When asked to describe his character Frederic, Côté hesitated.

“It’s hard to describe him, to be honest, but if anything Frederic is a very straight-laced kind of man. He keeps Gerald, who is more flamboyant, more romantic, in check. In a way, I am the policeman of the group,” explained Côté laughing. “My biggest challenge is to bring Frederic to life, to make people believe that there is a man with a heart and soul on stage.”

Vachon will host a pre-opera talk on Delibes’ work in the Piano Nobile in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier before every show, beginning at 6:30 p.m.. Lakmé productions will take place Sept. 21, 24, 26 and 28 at 7:30 p.m..


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