Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)
Lakmé - Opera in three acts (1883) [143:00]
Lakmé - Emma Matthews (soprano); Nilakantha - Stephen Bennett (baritone); Gerald - Aldo di Toro (tenor); Malika - Dominica Matthews (mezzo); Mistress Bentson - Roxane Hislop (mezzo); Frederic - Luke Gabbedy (baritone); Hadji- Edmond Choo (tenor); Eilen - Jane Parkin (soprano); Rose - Angela Brun (mezzo)
Opera Australia Chorus; Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra/Emmanuel Joel-Hornak
Roger Hodgman (director)
Based on a production by Adam Cook
Mark Thompson (sets and costumes)
rec. live, Sydney Opera House, 13 and 21 September 2011
DVD NTSC-all regions; 16:9 format; Audio LPCM stereo & DTS digital surround;
Subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian;
no written text or translation
Extras - cast gallery and “Roger Hodgman on Lakmé:

Despite the popularity of its best known numbers - the Flower duet and the Bell song - Lakmé has not really established itself on stage outside France. As is so often the case, I suspect that this may be due more to the libretto than the music. This is a curious and not very effective mixture of comedy and drama based on the relationship between the British and native populations in India in the nineteenth century. As a subject this has inspired a whole series of novels from “A Passage to India” through the Savage novels of John Masters to “The Far Pavilions” but has done less well in opera. It is hard to believe in any of the characters here or in their actions. Previous productions that I have seen have appeared uniformly weak dramatically, and I had hoped that this version might change my mind. Unfortunately a combination of wooden acting including chorus entries and exits that might have come from an amateur performance of Gilbert and Sullivan and a lack of any obvious directorial approach means that this is yet another honest but dull failed attempt to give the work dramatic life. The sets and costumes are pretty and for much of the time there is a clear attempt amongst those portraying the Indian characters to look and move appropriately but this is not sufficient to carry any degree of conviction.
All of this is a great pity, especially as vocally and orchestrally this is a fine performance. Emma Matthews sings the title role with great beauty and understanding and has the essential agility in the top register needed for the Bell Song. She is also the most convincing actress in the cast. Aldo di Toro as Gerald, the British officer engaged to Ellen, an English girl, but in love on sight with Lakmé, sings delightfully but has an appearance and manner which tended to suggest that his role in the army was in the pay corps. It makes Lakmé’s sacrifice for him even harder to believe in than usual. Stephen Bennett in contrast is more convincing as an actor than a singer and the rest of the cast are satisfactory. Musically the real heroes are the orchestra under Emmanuel Joel-Hornak, who play with finesse and energy when required. The brief ballet at the start of Act 2 is omitted.
Overall this is yet another example of a recording better heard than seen. Unusually this is because of a production that is too literal and old fashioned in manner rather than one that is wholly unrelated to the drama as envisaged by its creators. I am grateful that it does not fall into that trap, and for the excellent musical performances. Overall this is a performance well worth hearing but rather less so worth seeing.  

John Sheppard

Well worth hearing but rather less so worth seeing.