For the eyes and ears, this Lakme is utterly enchanting
Lakme maybe is not one of the all-time great operas. What it is though is a charming and I think underrated opera on its own. The story in the last act is not the most plausible and if you are looking for complex characters with many dimensions look to another opera(ie. Tosca). I however do find Lakme very charming and heartfelt, and the music is gorgeous. Unfortunately there are not many DVDs of Lakme around, but what the two that are available suffice very nicely. Both are from Opera Australia, and I am very fond of them both. One is this one from 2011 with Emma Matthews, and the other is one from 1976 with Joan Sutherland.
If I were to choose a preference between the two, I actually give a marginal edge to this production. It is not without flaws though. Aldo Di Toro has a beautiful voice, unstrained and with a nice lyrical warmth, but is a non-event as an actor, looking as though he wants to get the role over and done with as soon as possible. And I didn't like Luke Gabbedy's Frederic at all dramatically, his voice is very sonorous and rich but he only has one way of communication and that is staring at the conductor.
Everything else works though. Sure, anybody who fell in love with the beautifully co-ordinated ballet sequences in the Sutherland production will miss those here, but for me that is not enough to bring the performance down too much. The production for one looks absolutely gorgeous. I cannot imagine Lakme outside a traditional setting personally, and not only does the traditional setting here look so colourful and lavish but it looks genuinely authentic. The staging resorts to no distaste, and keeps what is unfolding on stage simple while involving and with the oriental lyrical style that you'd hope to see with Lakme. On DVD, it looks every bit as good thanks to the clear picture quality and the video directing is sympathetic without relying on too many close-ups. It is just excellent from a musical point of view as well, with stylish, beautifully textured orchestral playing, a vibrantly sung chorus and conducting that is alive to authority and nuances. The great sound compliments it very well.
As Lakme, Emma Matthews is splendid. I'll be honest in saying that Sutherland was not in her finest hour in her production, contrastingly Matthews couldn't have been more in her element. Her singing is a good size and bright in intonation(though not too much), and she also has beautiful tone, spot-on and very free-sounding high notes(her top E in the Bell Song is stunning), silken legato and phrasing, great musicianship, elegant diction and a very flexible colouratura technique. Dramatically, she is very graceful and heartfelt and her personal beauty helps in this regard. Jane Parkin, Angela Brun and Roxane Hislop are very good. Dominika Matthews is the best of the supporting cast, her mezzo is fruity and her acting sympathetic. Her blending with Matthews' Lakme in the exquisite Flower Duet is done with great care with neither singer overpowering the other. The Nilakantha of Stephen Bennett has involvement, character and authority, and apart from some woofiness at the top his voice is well-produced and pleasant.
To conclude, utterly enchanting visually and musically, almost from the performances of Gerald and Frederic it is almost perfect. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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