St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre


opera by Leo Delibes (semi-staged performance)

Performed in French (the performance will have synchronised Russian supertitles)



Christian Knapp

World premiere: 14 April 1883, L’Opéra Comique, Paris
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 6 December 1884, Imperial Italian Opera Company
Premiere of this production: 4 July 2021

Running time: 3 hours 20 minutes
The performance has two interval

Age category 12+


Music by Leo Delibes
Libretto by Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille

Choreography: Alexander Sergeyev
Lighting Designer: Vadim Brodsky
Video designer: Vadim Dulenko
Costume Technician: Antonia Shestakov
Musical Preparation: Natalia Mordashova
Chorus Master: Pavel Teplov
French Language Coaches: Ksenia Klimenko


The action takes place in British India in the late 19th century

Act I
The home of Nilakantha, a Brahmin priest, surrounded by a shady forest. It is early morning. Hindu men and women led by Nilakantha and his daughter Lakmé welcome the dawn of the new day with a prayer to Brahma. After prayer, all depart. Following the ceremony, Nilakantha, leaving his daughter to be cared for by her companion Mallika, together with his slave Hadji set out towards a sacred pagoda. Meanwhile, the girls decide to take a boat out to pick a lotus flower. In their absence, Ellen and Rose – daughters of the Governor of India – enter this place, which is forbidden to all foreigners, together with their governess Mistress Bentson and two British officers, Ellen's fiancé Gérald and his friend Frédéric. They are all eager to learn about Hindu customs, but on discovering that this is the home of Nilakantha the ferocious fanatical Brahmin they hasten to depart. Only Gérald remains behind: having by chance seen Lakmé's precious ornamental headpiece, he intends to sketch it in his album whatever the cost. Lakmé returns and her beauty stuns the Englishman. The foreigner is unperturbed at her warning that disaster and death await him should he be found in this sacred place by her father. Love for the courageous officer steals into Lakmé's heart and she, upon seeing the Brahmin in the distance, begs Gérald to hide. Nilakantha guesses that some European has visited his home from a piece broken fencing and swears revenge on this profanity.

Act II
A town square. A folk festival is at its height. Lakmé thinks wistfully of Gérald. Nilakantha, supposing the reason for her sadness to be some proffered insult, resolves to seek out her abuser. Lakmé's embarrassment on seeing Gérald, who has approached her as she was singing, reveals to the Brahmin who his enemy is. Lakmé, left alone with her beloved, begs him to run away with her. He is slow to decide. Meanwhile, a holy procession of the priests is making its way across the square. Nilakantha, grasping at a suitable moment, sneaks up to Gérald and stabs him with a dagger. The shocked Lakmé commands Hadji to carry the wounded man after her.

A forest. Lakmé stands guard over the wounded and sleeping Gérald, and when he wakes up he recounts the story of his salvation. The Englishman, enchanted by the beautiful maiden, is ready to be united with her forever and – in line with Hindu custom – drink, together with her, water from a sacred stream using the same cup. Lakmé hastens to fetch the water. In her absence, Frédéric appears and convinces his friend to come back to the regiment, which is ready to set off. Gérald is aware of a sense of duty, and he promises his friend to follow the latter's advice. When she returns, Lakmé in horror sees the alteration in her beloved and decides to kill herself with a toxic flower. Her beloved once again submits to the enchantment – and together with her drinks the sacred water from the cup. Nilakantha, on discovering Lakmé and Gérald together, wishes to kill the Englishman. His daughter, however, declares that they have been married. The poison begins to take effect, and the girl dies peacefully in the embrace of her beloved.

There is at least one highlight from Léo Delibes’ opera Lakmé that everybody knows: when two enchanting Hindu girls who have set out to gather lotus blossoms sing the Flower Duet, audiences always sense a thrill of recognition. Like pollen, this charming melody has been variously dispersed in advertisements and soundtracks, though Delibes was generous in refrains that caress the ears and which cede nothing at all to this popular “hit”, and for their sake it is worth listening to the opera in its entirety. In addition to the famous Duo des fleurs, from the stage one can hear passionate duets declaring love, heartfelt arias, enigmatic choral supplications, striking dance melodies of temple dancers and even vaudeville couplets. the lynchpin of the opera is Lakmé’s unbelievably virtuoso aria with the bells, which requires a fantastically supple voice and crystal-pure intonation for the impossibly high notes. the orchestra in Lakmé is magnificent: at times it renders delicate support to the soloists, at others it “sings” together with them, it creates almost tangible images of delightful tropical nature and it paints a colourful scene of a crowded bazaar. the love story of a British officer and the daughter of a Brahmin concludes sadly, as per the laws of the genre, and even though particularly sensitive members of the audience may well wipe away a tear at the finale, the romantic opera Lakmé leaves a bright impression that is rare indeed.

Lakmé returned to the playbill of the Mariinsky Theatre in the autumn of 2020, when a concert performance took place.

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