Leo DELIBES (1836 - 1891)
Lakmé - Joan Sutherland (soprano)
Gerald - Henri Wilden (tenor)
Nilakantha - Clifford Grant (bass)
Ellen - Isobel Buchanan (soprano)
Frederick - John Pringle (baritone)
Mallika - Huguette Tourangeau (mezzo)
Hadji -Graeme Ewer (tenor)
Rose - Jennifer Bermingham (soprano)
Miss Bentson - Rosina Raisbeck (mezzo-soprano)
A fortune teller - Kevin Mills (tenor)
A Chinese trinket seller - George Carter (tenor)
A pickpocket - Graeme Williams (baritone)
A Chinese medicine seller - Trevor Brown (baritone)
Australian Opera Chorus
The Elizabethan Symphony Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
rec. live, Sydney Opera House, 18 August 1976. ADD
OPERA AUSTRALIA OPOZ56012CD [77.35 + 71.34]
From 1976, Australian Opera filmed some of their performances in partnership
with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. By the mid-1980s they were broadcasting
at least three productions per year. This archive included many of Joan Sutherland’s
roles, some recorded nowhere else in the world. Unfortunately three of those
recorded by Australian Opera are no longer extant; the masters for Lakmé,
Norma and Lucrezia Borgia had been wiped.
In the 1990s, copies of the original masters were found and, after a considerable
amount of work, the recordings were restored. They are now available on DVD.
This recording of Lakmé from 1976 is the sound track from one
of these filmed recordings, now re-issued on CD.
This live recording was made ten years after Sutherland’s commercial recording
of Lakmé. In the studio, Sutherland was surrounded by a substantially
Francophone cast. On these discs the Australian Opera cast are rather more polyglot.
However, the studio recording has come in for quite a lot of critical comment
because it was recorded at a period when Sutherland seemed to have dispensed
entirely with consonants.
On these discs Sutherland takes noticeably more care with the language and her
French is intermittently comprehensible. Whilst you can always tell she is singing
French, her vocal production remains distinctly her own and in no way French
influenced. If you want to hear what a traditional French performance of the
title role can be like, it is worthwhile looking for Mady Mesple’s recording.
Aged around 50 when this recording was made, Sutherland’s instrument is
not longer quite as perfect as it was. There are occasional signs of strain
at the top and a tendency to swoop up to notes which would become more marked
as she got older. That said, her voice as captured on these discs remains one
of life’s miracles. Never the most dramatically intense of performers,
recording live seems to have given Sutherland a dramatic edge. As her lover
Gerald, Henri Willen provides nicely heroic tone, perhaps a little too heroic
at times, with a little strain on top. He is more than acceptable, and will
do quite nicely but in the studio Sutherland was partnered by the golden tones
of Alain Vanzo.
Gerald’s official fiancée Ellen is nicely sung by Isobel Buchanan
and the other pair of lovers, Frederic and Rose, by John Pringle and Jennifer
Bermingham. These are relatively small roles. To a certain extent their separate
characters are lost amid the aural mêlée. Recorded live in the
theatre, it is difficult to differentiate characters, particularly in act 2;
that is unless you are following with a libretto.
Rosina Raisbeck is a fine Miss Bentson, her strong characterisation might be
caricature, but it ensures that the character does come over. Clifford Grant
is a superb Nilakantha. Beautifully sung, with fine French, Grant makes Nilakantha’s
bluster seem intelligent, and is certainly worth hearing. Inevitably with a
live performance, the ensemble is a bit shaky at times and the chorus’s
French is commendable but basic. Huguette Tourangeau is Malika and she blends
nicely with Sutherland in the duet moments, which are the opera’s musical
Bonynge conducts with sympathy and support for the voices. He can’t turn
Lakmé into a dramatic masterpiece but ensures that it receives
as shapely a performance as possible. The CD booklet includes a track-listing
(which manages to omit act 3), synopsis and an article about the restoration
of the recording. This performance is also available on DVD; possible Sutherland’s
only filmed performance of Lakmé. Frankly, I don’t know
why you would specifically want to buy this recording on CD if you could have
it on DVD.
The booklet includes a picture of Sutherland and Tourangeau taken from the AO
If you want Sutherland on CD, then go for the studio recording: it has a superb
cast and Sutherland is in fine voice despite the lack of consonants. If you
want Lakmé, and you can afford it, then go for the more recent
recording with Natalie Dessay; its finely sung and almost manages to convince
you that the piece serves up real drama. This CD performance of Australian Opera’s
filmed version is probably for Sutherland completists and AO supporters only.
Probably for Sutherland completists and AO supporters only.