October 2006


I wonder if the definition of obsession allows one to be obsessed with more than one thing. I usually drone on about the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, or major league baseball. This month, an all-new obsession—the opera Lakmé.


I first heard this opera’s famous Flower Duet in the 1983 David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve film, The Hunger. This now ubiquitous duet has been used in several films, on various television programs, and for radio commercials. To my chagrin, I recently heard it played during a ham commercial.


This beautiful song was all I knew of the opera for many years. Then, about five years ago, Minnesota Public Radio featured Lakmé for its weekly opera broadcast. I recorded the entire radio program onto cassette tapes. I soon was listening to this wondrous masterpiece over and over. I was hooked. It quickly became my all-time favorite opera. I’ve since purchased the compact disc of the full-length opera featuring Natalie Dessay in the title role. (I definitely recommend this version to anyone interested.)

Written by Léo Delibes, the opera was first performed at the Opéra Comique in Paris in 1883. The story is set in India during the late nineteenth century. The story begins when Lakmé falls in love with a British officer. We all can guess the rest.


One of the main draws of Lakmé is the beautiful coloratura soprano singing of the title character. The coloratura soprano role is flowery, embellished, and includes runs and trills.


Lily Pons (1898–1976) was famous for her role as Lakmé. She performed the role 50 times in her three-decade career. She was the first soprano who could reach the high F with apparent ease, heard during the Bell Song in Act II. A recording of Pons singing the Bell Song can be heard at . Lily Pons was beloved around the world. The village of Lilypons, Maryland, was named in her honor. In an interesting play on words, Lilypons Water Gardens boasts large ponds filled with heavenly water lilies.


There are only two degrees of separation between me and a woman who watched Lily Pons perform in Lakmé for the San Francisco Opera in the 1930’s. As a child, she didn’t mind standing in the back for the standing room only, sold-out performance.


Amazingly, the opera is not often performed. Luckily for me, the Minnesota Opera will be performing it next spring. I already have my front row seat tickets for opening night. There will be a total of five performances, so if one viewing is not enough to slake my obsession, I can always see it twice, or three times. . .