The Return of “Lakmé” on the Stage of Sofia

After 82 years the French opera “Lakmé” by Léo Delibes returned to the stage of the Sofia Opera. A tale of love, a vision of the world of exoticism, told by the “gentle blond giant” Delibes, famous also for his ballet “Coppélia”.Delibes created “Lakmé “, a pearl of the French opera, in the late nineteenth century, a time of flourishing of the exotic, which captured the imagination of artists from different arts with the magic charm of the Far Orient. “Lakmé” is played on a few stages in the world. It is a great challenge as a requirement not only of the style, but also of the singers, especially the tenor part. Even such theatres as the Vienna Staatsoper find it difficult to afford this title.

The Sofia Opera relied on the principle of co-production, trusted young talents, mingled different generations on one stage. This première is an expression of director Plamen Kartaloff’s strategy to rediscover opera masterpieces little-known at home.

The show is a co-production with the National Opera of Maribor, Slovenia. Kartaloff gathered part of the team, with which he has made the work in Maribor – stage designer Miodrag Tabachki, costumes artist Angelina Atladzhich, Petya Ivanova, star of the opera in Maribor, and Irena Petkova, who has also established herself there as well as the popular Mexican tenor Hector Sandoval. The conductor of the original staging, Francesco Rosa, was invited as a music consultant and to work with the singers, and Grigor Palikarov conducted the première. Another challenge was the French language. The answer was – intense work of Snezhina Rusinova with the singers and choir.

In the première performance of “Lakmé” the magnificence of the lyric-dramatic work was revived, the theatre of the word was revived, making the experience more accessible to the contemporary viewer. The directorial interpretation relies on the timeless theme – the power of love and sacrifice. Kartaloff has not been tempted to look for cheap effect, by giving emphasis on the clash of two different worlds, the English colonizers with the oppressed India – something that many directors do today in order to cause sensation and update familiar stories. He is looking for the depth of story, music and psychology, set by the composer. That allows him to retain the softness and flexibility which captivate with their beauty and sentiments.

The action takes place in India, over which weighs the English colonial oppression. Hindus pray to Brahma for freedom, guided in their fight by the High Priest Nilakantha. His daughter, Lakmé, however, falls in love with British officer Gérald. When he is wounded by her father, Lakmé hides him and showers him with caresses of love. Through the miracle of water she seeks to link their fates forever. Military duty, however, calls Gerald and he leaves. Lakmé has lost the meaning of life and commits suicide.

The spare set design creates a modern sense of this exotic tale. The spaces skilfully and without imposing form the temple for prayers and the noisy market, as well as the intimacy for the experience of the love scenes. The beautiful costumes and the typical for French opera ballet scenes (masterfully choreographed by Maya Shopova) reinforce the enchanting, exotic nature. The directorial style of Kartaloff is clear-cut. The duo Kartaloff-Tabachki (which we know from “Turandot” and “Un ballo in maschera”) endorsed the idea not only for the synergy in the work of both artists, but also the directorial style of Kartaloff. His style is characterized by plastic sculpting of the images – musically and on the stage, detailed elaboration of the ensemble scenes and turning the chorus into a protagonist. In other words – by his ability to shape a fully efficient ensemble theatre.

Petya Ivanova (Lakmé) showed her exceptional growth as a singer-actor for these 6 years absence from the home scene. Petya Ivanova’s Lakmé was a real vocal grace. With her voice she carved deep her heroine’s different states – from lyrical and joyful intoxication to the awakening of love and the readiness to die. The duo of Lakmé and Mallika (Irina Petkova) was an unforgettable experience. The two voices caressed the ear with their timbre beauty and the full synchronization of the internal state of heroines. The ease, versatility and the simultaneous timbre colouring of this rare coloratura voice of Petya Ivanova presented the aria of the bells with exhilarating brilliance and freedom. This performance will be remembered.

Hector Sandoval was a great discovery for us. His Gérald was a hero of the great opera stages. Real “tenore di grazia” as in the old times, with mezza voce and falsetto. He modelled with his voice emotions and conditions, soft and flexible, and vividly played the awakening of love. The third act was a unique “experience of love and grief”, casual, as in real life, despite the vocal difficulties. These soloists showed high class vocal and acting skills, they have mastered the breath of the musical phrase, the articulation of the French language and the nature of the characters, combined with a memorable delicacy and finesse. The heights or the continued development of the phrase in the high register did not prevent this true theatre of words and music, unaffected and natural as speech. Two young talents debuted – bass Peter Naydenov (Nilakantha), a real discovery, and soprano Theodora Chukurska. Naydenov created the character of the priest convincingly both in vocal and in acting.

The choir once again showed their excellent vocal and acting skills, merit also of the chorus master Slavil Dimitrov. Some discrepancies occurred in the complicated setup in the second act, but that was quickly controlled. Conductor Grigor Palikarov overexposed some areas of the delicate orchestral score, which did not correspond with the rich nuances in the vocal interpretation. I felt I needed more singular breath between stage and orchestra to get the full impact of this magic exotic work.

Duma Daily, Sofia, 27.05.2008

Magdalena Manolova

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