Lakmé Sings the Blues

Original Poster for Lakmé. Leo Delibes, 1881-1882

Léo Delibes would probably be shocked to see and hear his opera, Lakmé, especially the Flower Duet section, linked with everything from Ghirardelli chocolates to the movie True Romance. Because of that special duet between Lakmé and her servant, Mallika, because of its extreme sweetest, exoticism, ripeness and fluidity, it has been paired with great violence as well as wonderful food. Study in contrasts. Study in opposites. It is almost too much of a temptation to have that romantic, lush, beautiful melody playing underneath an onslaught of mayhem and obliteration. If I were a director, I think I might be tempted as well.

But I think Delibes would not like the overuse of that brilliant section of his opera, I’m guessing. He would enjoy its popularity, but not its near omnipresence. Too much of a good thing. Overexposed generally means critical panning and even outright mockery.

But the music itself, to me at least, is wonderful. I am not an opera buff, and lack the critical vocabulary to discuss it with insight. But I do recognize the beauty inherent in many operas. Though I tend to like portions, rather than whole performances. A good class in musical appreciation, focusing on the opera, might “correct” that.

 Flower Duet, from Lakmé.

Elina Garanca and Anna Netrebko


That said, adding opera or opera-like music to movies is often wonderfully effective. Krzysztof Kieślowski, with the help of the composer, Zbigniew Preisner, created magical, often mystical sound/sightscapes, especially in his Blue, Red and White. Adding drama, intensity, and emphasizing extreme emotional and spiritual states. Opera can underscore and elevate those states.

Nietzsche at first hailed opera, especially Wagnerian, but later turned on it and his former friend. He had many good reasons regarding Wagner. As for the music itself, he thought it led to unhealthy emotions too easily. Dionysian, without enough Apollonian shape and control, at times. Perhaps the boxing up, wrapping up and heavy commercialization of so many classic operas diminishes the power somewhat.

Co-opting, even taming the Dionysian. Who would have thunk it?


Lakmé Sings the Blues
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