Gyu-Yeon Shim and Alexander Wook Lee
Léo Delibes' 1883 opera Lakmé has some marvelous music but is rarely performed. We were delighted that Conductor Thomas Muraco chose it for his final offering of the season at Manhattan School of Music. The libretto by Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille can be seen as another opera about a woman who commits suicide after being seduced and abandoned; it can be seen as an entry in the late 19th c. popularity contest of exotic tales of the Orient; it could also make perfect sense as a cautionary warning against intercultural romance or against colonialism. (Think Madama Butterfly.) Last night we saw it as a vehicle for a star coloratura.
Gyu-Yeon Shim is just such a star. With a voice as exquisite as her face and form, she flawlessly performed the titular role; she was utterly convincing as an innocent maiden exposed to the romantic notions of an English soldier. The role pushed her voice up into the stratosphere without any appearance of effort. She was outstanding in her duet with her servant Mallika (the fine mezzo-soprano Talin Nalbandian), a duet most of us have heard countless times--"Sous le dôme épais".
The Bell Song, "L'air des clochettes" in Act II is an aria her father the Hindu priest Nilakantha (the excellent bass Juan Daniel Melo) forces her to sing in order to draw out the British soldier who has desecrated their temple. Not only did she entrance Gérald but the entire audience! Her voice is well focused with a pleasant vibrato. And a trill to thrill.
Gérald was excellently portrayed by tenor Alexander Wook Lee who was, unfortunately indisposed but doing his best to "soldier" on. We will be happy to hear him as Goro in Madama Butterfly with Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance this July and to learn how he sounds when well.
Gérard is affianced and his infatuation with the lovely Lakmé sweeps him off his feet. His comrade Frédéric is the voice of reason, warning him not to enter the temple grounds and later persuading him to return to his regiment. Baritone Suk Bae Kim was excellent in the role with a nice full sound.
His fiancée Ellen was portrayed by soprano Anna Mayo and her sister Rose by soprano Jeanne Gérard. The roles were small but the impression the two sopranos made was large. We look forward to hearing more of their lovely voices. Their governess Mistress Bentson was sung by the versatile Ms. Nalbandian. The trio of ladies served to limn the cluelessness of the English colonizing India during the Raj.
Tenor James Ludlum filled the role of Hadji, Nilakantha's servant, who is instrumental in moving the plot along. He helps Lakmé rescue Gérard after the latter is stabbed by Nilakantha. Lakmé restores his health but he decides to return to his military duties and she reacts by killing herself. Is there any other instance in the operatic repertoire of death by poisoned flower?
Not only was the singing delicious but the two pianos (Jeremy Chen and Dura Jun) teased our ears with one miraculous melody after another, offering ample opportunity to focus on them during the prelude and the intermezzi. The entire affair was conducted lovingly by Maestro Thomas Muraco who, along with Elsa Quéron, coached the French diction.
There will be one more performance Sunday evening at 7:30 with a completely different cast. Were we free we would happily hear it again. Don't miss this rare opportunity!
(c) meche kroop