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Léo Delibes (born St Germain du Val, 21 February 1836; died Paris, 16 January 1891).


Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille.


Novel Le mariage de Loti (1882) by Pierre Loti.



First Performance: Paris (Opéra-Comique), 14 April 1883.

First performance in UK: London (Gaiety Theatre), 6 June 1885.

First Performance in Scotland: tbc.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.



Delibes is remembered largely for his charming ballet Coppélia.  Why Lakmé, a hugely attractive work, should have failed to maintain popularity when Bizet's inferior Pearl Fishers does so seems odd.  However for British audiences it must be said that the plot is very much a French view of the British in India.  The sub-plot involving two English girls and their Governess is definitely used for its comic possibilities - with music reminiscent of Bizet's smugglers in Carmen.

Perhaps it is time for the Flower Duet, made popular a few years ago in a British Airways commercial, to be used again as the background music to a TV advert. Perhaps British audiences found the generally flippant treatment of the British characters, especially the governess, unsympathetic, but even if that were the case, it wouldn't explain the persistent neglect in other countries. The first performance outside London and in English seems to have been in Liverpool on 8 March 1918. Glasgow or Edinburgh may have seen it at a similar period (to be confirmed).

It had a success at Wexford in 1970, but that led nowhere.  Swansea City Opera toured a small-scale production a few years ago.  The only Scottish staging seems to be an excellent attempt by Fife Opera in Kirkcaldy in 1999.  Their plans for a second staging in October 2020 were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, to be resurrected in a semi-staging in the spring of 2022.


Main Characters

Gérald, a British Army Officer (tenor)

Frédéric, a second officer, his friend (baritone)

Nilakantha, a Brahmin priest (bass)

Lakmé, Nilakantha's daughter (soprano)

Mallika, Lakmé's servant (mezzo-soprano)

Hadji, Nilakantha's servant (tenor)

Ellen, the Governor's daughter (soprano)

Rose, Ellen's sister (mezzo-soprano)

Miss Bentson, a governess (mezzo-soprano)


Plot Summary

Lakmé and Mallika  prepare to go boating, singing 'that' duet.  Gérald and Frédéric are escorting a pair of young English ladies and their governess.  They stumble by accident into the woodland grove which is sacred to the Hindus. Finding Lakme's jewels, which has has left there, they are fascinated and only agree to leave when Gérald promises to stay behind and draw them.  He hides as Lakmé and Mallika return.  When she is left alone Lakmé sees Gérald and warns him off as he will be killed if he is found there. He is clearly infatuated and only leaves ust as Nilakantha is approaching.  He already hates the British, and when he catches sight of this further desecration he swears vengeance.

Nilakantha shadows the Brits as they make their way to the local market, where he persuades Lakmé to sing her Bell Song, by which means she will flush out the guilty soldiers. She warns Gérald that her father is dangerous, but a scuffle develops in which Gerald is wounded. Hadji carries him off to Lakmé's hut in the woods.

Gerald has been delirious while Lakmé nurses him back to health.  She and the still feverish Gérald enjoy a brief period of seclusion together. Frédéric arrives to recall him to his duty, and Lakmé, realising the hopelessness of her position, takes eats poisonous datura leaves.  Her vengeful father arrives to find his daughter dying in Gérald's arms.  Nilakantha is happy that she is not betraying the faith.

The Cast

Chinese Merchant
 the Governor's daughter
 a British Army Officer
 a British Army Officer
Gypsy Fortune Teller
 Nilakantha's servant
 Nilakantha's daughter
 Lakmé's servant
Miss Bentson
 the girls' governess
 a Brahmin priest
 Ellen's sister

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