Lakme, City of Swansea Opera, Taliesin Arts Centre

April 9, 2017 by

Not often performed and described by many critics as a one song show, Lakme nevertheless has a certain charm, if the story line is a little ridiculous.

The opera lacks the gravitas and musical depth of the great grand operas and stands closer to the works of Gilbert and Sullivan than Verdi and Puccini.
Set in India in the 1880s the opera tells the forbidden love story between the daughter of a Brahmin priest, Lakme and an English soldier Gerald. And like many operas it ends with death.
Swansea City Opera has injected a measure of simplicity into the production which is currently in the middle of an 18 venue tour, and this brings benefits. The setting of a stage full of drapes with a few boxes strategically placed makes it eminently suitable for touring but also avoids the distractions that a more elaborate staging would bring.
Unfortunately in some sense, the hit of the opera, the Barcarolle duet comes very early in Act One and from then on nothing really matches up to it.
Lakme performed by Hannah Sawle and her slave Mallika, performed by Katarzyna Balejko, combined beautifully for the duet which is a memorable tune which fades away serenely towards the end.
Lakme has a further opportunity to shine in Act two with the Bell Song. This is a technical test for any soprano and Hannah hit it just right with her high notes sailing across the theatre and lifting the tone of the Act. Often regarded as a show-off for aspiring sopranos the solo nevertheless brings an element of magic to the scene.
There was also an impressive performance from Hakan Vramsmo as the Brahmin priest Nilakantha. His versatile voice was equal to the high and lows of his solos and he dominated an early duet with Lakme – Lakme c’est toi.
Lover Gerald played by Daniel Joy had his moment in Act One when he first encounters Lakme and is smitten with love. As their love deepens Gerald launches into C’est le dieu which builds into a duet and then unfortunately fades as chorus and orchestra join in.
A touch of humour is needed in this opera and it comes in the shape of Mistress Bentson played by Rhonda Browne. She has a formidable stage presence and got the most from the limited amount of humour available.
After the first two acts, where the company kept the pace moving steadily forward, Act Three tended to almost come to a halt as a sense of melodrama takes over.
First Gerald recovers from being stabbed and sings of his love and then the priest responds to the pleas of Lakme to spare him, as she begins to die after taking poison. The act is saved by a lovely song of farewell from Lakme.
There is very little chorus work in the opera but the company were supported for this performance by members of the Brynmill Uplands Community Choir and the Haverfordwest Operatic Society.
Overall it was a pleasant entertainment without ever reaching the heights and I enjoyed the performance.
The Director and Set Designer was Brendan Wheatley and full marks to him and the company for endeavouring to keep opera alive in Swansea. The City Council had withdrawn its funding from the company but they managed to get support from the Arts Councils of Wales and England and some generous individual sponsors.
One can only hope they are able to continue in the future and maintain an operatic link with the City.




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