Monday 26 February 2024

Beyond coloratura: Strong performances and a serious approach in Chelsea Opera Group's account of Léo Delibes' Lakmé

Poster for the première of Léo Delibes' Lakmé
Poster for the première of Léo Delibes' Lakmé 

Léo Delibes: Lakmé;  Haegee Lee, Elgan Llŷr Thomas, James Platt, Julien Van Mellaerts, Lorena Paz Nieto, Caroline Carragher, Sarah Pring, Polly Leech, Magnus Walker, Chelsea Opera Group, Matthew Scott Rogers; Cadogan Hall
Reviewed 25 February 2024

Strong performances and a serious approach to the music ensure that the pleasures of this performance of Delibes' rarity extended well beyond coloratura delights

Léo Delibes' Lakmé received a rare London outing when Matthew Scott Rogers conducted Chelsea Opera Group in the work on Sunday 25 February 2024 at Cadogan Hall with Haegee Lee as Lakmé, Elgan Llŷr Thomas as Gérald, James Platt as Nilakantha, Julien Van Mellaerts as Frédéric, Lorena Paz Nieto as Miss Ellen, Sarah Pring as Mistress Bentson, Caroline Carragher as Miss Rose and Polly Leech as Mallika.

The very full Cadogan Hall suggested that audiences are keener on this type of rarity than companies sometimes give them credit for and that the major opera companies' continuing neglect is strange. After all the issues surround the Orientalism and colonial-era plot are no more problematic than Madama Butterfly or Les pêcheurs de perles. Though written with sung dialogue, the work's style exists in the borderlands between grand opera and operetta (Delibes' had already written popular operettas) whilst the work's dramatic pacing in the later two acts can be a little slow. But there are plenty of musical pearls, well beyond the two best known numbers, and this concert performance showed that there was indeed much to enjoy when you take the piece seriously.

Central to this was Haegee Lee's performance as Lakmé. The South Korean soprano took the role entirely seriously and her Lakmé was an intense dramatic creation rather than being an excuse on which to hang a performance of the Bell Song, the Act Two coloratura showpiece that is the reason for the work's remaining in the repertoire. Interestingly, most of the role is hardly coloratura at all, it is one of those roles that calls for a lyric voice with added coloratura.

Lee's Bell Song was admirably done, but it was part of a larger performance that engaged throughout. There was little that was winsome about this Lakmé, in Act One she was rather feisty and throughout there was an air of serious melancholy about her. And at the end the work, her dramatic intensity made the rather trite ending work. Any performance of Lakmé is about more than just the title role, but Lee's serious approach and dramatic intensity, allied to great coloratura and a fine voice, ensured that this was a performance for far more than canary fanciers.

Gérald is, frankly, a bit of a silly ass; the opera's treatment of the English characters is borderline comic. Elgan Llŷr Thomas' approach was to give him a brooding intensity, making Lee's seriousness. Soldier Gérald had a nice swagger to him, with Thomas singing was admirably robustness of tone and vigour. In the love scenes with Lee, Thomas did bring on some beautifully hushed tone at times, but his overall approach was robust rather than suave.

As Lakmé's father, Nilakantha, James Platt gave an intelligent and thoughtful performance, making the role a little more than just blood and thunder. It was a great pleasure listening to Platt shaping the vocal lines, and perhaps this softened the character a little too much, but I can hardly complain at fine singing.

Frédéric is the sensible one, recalling his brother soldier to his duty. In fact there are subtle echoes of Armida in the plot in the way that Lakmé spirits Gérald off to a hidden idyll, only for Frédéric to find him there and recall him to his soldierly duty. Julien Van Mellaerts gave an intelligent and engaging performance, making you enjoy his brief moments and wish the role was bigger.

The treatment of the three English women is pure comedy. The ensembles for the five English characters in Acts One and Two are right out of operetta, and what was lovely about the performance was the way that all the singers (Elgan Llŷr Thomas, Julien Van Mellaerts, Lorena Paz Nieto, Sarah Pring and Caroline Carragher) brought lightness and joy to these ensembles whilst giving us hints of individual characters. Lorena Paz Nieto's Miss Ellen was certainly no cool English rose and Paz Nieto sang her with delightful coquettish charm, whilst Caroline Carragher gave Miss Rose a nicely contrasting demure poise. Sarah Pring was great value as their governess, performing with great aplomb.

The two Indian servants were finely taken. Polly Leech as Mallika only appeared in Act One, but she made a lovely foil for Haegee Lee and sang with lovely warm tone in the famous Flower Duet. Magnus Walker as Hadji also provided discreet and firm support. 

David Padua, John Vallance and Kevin Hollands were good value in their stand-out performances during the Market Scene at the opening of Act Two, though is was a shame that the chorus seemed to find Delibes' fiddly vocal writing here something of a challenge. Elsewhere, the chorus was on strong form often providing firm underpinning to the larger-scale scenes.

Conductor Matthew Scott Rogers clearly loves the work. After a fine account of the overture, the opening scene took time to settle down but after that he and the orchestra gave us much to enjoy, expressively shaping all those lovely melodies. Scott Rogers clearly took the work seriously, but he also encouraged both singers and orchestra to bringing out that element of lightness that is an essential part of the work's make-up.

Never miss out on future posts by following us

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog

  • Marking the centenary of Puccini's death: Opera Holland Park in his early Messa di Gloria - concert review
  • The Lady of Satis House: composer Jacques Cohen talks about finally bringing his 2012 Charles Dickens-inspired monodrama to disc - interview
  • Vivid intensity & profound expressivity: Vox Luminis explores the world of the 17th century Italian Stabat Mater at Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • Revealing a remarkable talent: Solomon's Knot explore the Sacred Songs and Anthems of 17th century composer George Jeffreys - record review
  • Knowing no boundarieson Circus Dinograd contemporary & period performers move between styles & genres without embarrassment - record review
  • In Relations: exploring links from Meyerbeer, to Loewe, to Mendelssohn, to Schumann, to Emilie Mayer and Frances Allitsen - record review
  • Mythical Creatures: I chat to Polish-born, Australian composer Paul Kopetz about the recent disc of his music - interview
  • A Lionel Tertis CelebrationTimothy Ridout, Frank Dupree, James Baillieu; Harmonia Mundi - record review
  • Young Composers 5: the latest iteration of the National Youth Choir's Young Composers scheme challenge & stimulate - record review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month