I thought that for the end of the year/the beginning of next year, I would post what some might call “opera’s greatest hits”. These are two duets, one from Delibes’ Lakme, and the other from Jacques Offenbach’s operetta Tales of Hoffmann. I would like to point out that the mezzo Shirley Verrett is singing on the piece from Offenbach. She was a phenomenal mezzo, and at some point I will do a posting just of her.

The singers are Joan Sutherland and Huguette Tourangeau. Joan Sutherland had a reputation for never pronouncing a consonant if she could avoid it. You might no be able to tell that here as you have the lyrics. Huguette Tourangeau was a lovely mezzo, and she blends beautifully with Sutherland.

Lakme, Flower Duet

Viens, Mallika, les lianes en fleurs
Jettent déjà leur ombre
Sur le ruisseau sacré qui coule,
Calme et sombre,
Eveillé par le chant des oiseaux tapageurs!

Oh! maîtresse,
C’est l’heure ou je te vois sourire,
L’heure bénie où je puis lire
Dans le coeur toujours fermé de Lakmé!

Lakmé: Dôme épais le jasmin
Mallika: Sous le dôme épais où le blanc jasmin

L.: À la rose s’assemble,
M.: À la rose s’assemble,

L.: Rive en fleurs, frais matin,
M.: Sur la rive en fleurs, riant au matin,

L.: Nous appellent ensemble.
M.: Viens, descendons ensemble.

L.: Ah! glissons en suivant
M.: Doucement glissons; De son flot charmant

L.: Le courant fuyant;
M.: Suivons le courant fuyant;

L.: Dans l’onde frémissante,
M.: Dans l’onde frémissante,

L.: D’une main nonchalante,
M.: D’une main nonchalante,

L.: Gagnons le bord,
M.: Viens, gagnons le bord

L.: Où l’oiseau chante,
M.: Où la source dort.

L.: l’oiseau, l’oiseau chante.
M.: Et l’oiseau, l’oiseau chante.

L.: Dôme épais, blanc jasmin,
M.: Sous le dôme épais, Sous le blanc jasmin,

L.: Nous appellent ensemble!
M.: Ah! descendons ensemble!

L.: Mais, je ne sais quelle crainte subite
s’empare de moi.
Quand mon père va seul à leur ville maudite,
Je tremble, je tremble d’effroi!

M.: Pour que le Dieu Ganeça le protège,
Jusqu’à l’étang où s’ébattent joyeux
Les cygnes aux ailes de neige,
Allons cueillir les lotus bleus.

L.: Oui, près des cygnes aux ailes de neige,
Allons cueillir les lotus bleus.

L: Dôme épais le jasmin
M: Sous le dôme épais où le blanc jasmin

L.: À la rose s’assemble,
M.: À la rose s’assemble,

L.: Rive en fleurs, frais matin,
M.: Sur la rive en fleurs, riant au matin,

L.: Nous appellent ensemble.
M.: Viens, descendons ensemble.

L.: Ah! glissons en suivant
M.: Doucement glissons; De son flot charmant

L.: Le courant fuyant;
M.: Suivons le courant fuyant;

L.: Dans l’onde frémissante,
M.: Dans l’onde frémissante,

L.: D’une main nonchalante,
M.: D’une main nonchalante,

L.: Gagnons le bord,
M.: Viens, gagnons le bord

L.: Où l’oiseau chante,
M.: Où la source dort.

L.: l’oiseau, l’oiseau chante.
M.: Et l’oiseau, l’oiseau chante.

L.: Dôme épais, blanc jasmin,
M.: Sous le dôme épais, Sous le blanc jasmin,

L.: Nous appellent ensemble!
M.: Ah! descendons ensemble!

Flower Duet

LAKMÉ:
Look Mallika! Lianes are in bloom
Casting downward their shadows
Over the sacred stream that flows calm and somber
Awakened by the sound of the song-happy birds!

MALLIKA:
Oh dear mistress!
It’s time at last I see you smiling
The time has come and I am reading
What was closed up in the heart of Lakme!

LAKMÉ [in duet with Mallika, below]
Thick dome of jasmine
All the roses forever
Flowers in the morn freshly born
Call us to come together
Ah glide along and sing along
The current so strong
The sun so hot the water is shimmering
Hand skimming the surface nonchalantly
Cutting through the edge
While birds are singing singing sing enchanted
Dome canopy white jasmine
Call us to come together

MALLIKA [in duet with Lakme, above]:
Under the canopy where the white jasmine
All the roses forever
River flowers in the morn freshly born
Let us both go down together
Gently we glide on and we float along
Follow the current so strong
The sun so hot the water is shimmering
Hand skimming the surface nonchalantly
Come let us reach the edge
Where the spring sleeps
And birds singing, sing enchanted
Under dome canopy where the white jasmine
Let us go down together

LAKME:
I, don’t know what overcame me
To fill my heart full of fear
When my father goes down alone to the doomed city
I tremble, I tremble, my dear

MALLIKA:
Ganesha will watch over his protege
Up til the pond where the merry do play
With wings of snow swans are swimming
Come let us pick the lotus blue

LAKME:
Oh yes, let’s go where white swans are swimming
And let us pick the lotus blue

LAKMÉ [in duet with Mallika, below]
Thick dome of jasmine
All the roses forever
Flowers in the morn freshly born
Call us to come together
Ah glide along and sing along
The current so strong
The sun so hot the water is shimmering
Hand skimming the surface nonchalantly
Cutting through the edge
While birds are singing singing sing enchanted
Dome canopy white jasmine
Call us to come together
Please

MALLIKA [in duet with Lakme, above]:
Under dome canopy where the white jasmine
All the roses forever
River flowers in the morn freshly born
Let us both go down together
Gently we glide on and we float along
Follow the current so strong
The sun so hot the water is shimmering
Hand skimming the surface nonchalantly
Come let us reach the edge
Where the spring sleeps
And birds singing, sing enchanted
Under dome canopy where the white jasmine
Let us go down together!

Barcarolle, aux Contes d’Hoffmann
Jacques Offenbach

Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour
Souris à nos ivresses
Nuit plus douce que le jour
Ô,belle nuit d’amour!
Le temps fuit et sans retour
Emporte nos tendresses
Loin de cet heureux séjour
Le temps fuit sans retour
Zéphyrs embrasés
Versez-nous vos caresses
Zéphyrs embrasés
Donnez-nous vos baisers!
Vos baisers! Vos baisers! Ah!
Belle nuit, ô, nuit d’amour
Souris à nos ivresses
Nuit plus douce que le jour,
Ô, belle nuit d’amour!
Ah! souris à nos ivresses!
Nuit d’amour, ô, nuit d’amour!
Ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah!

Barcarolle, from the Tales of Hoffmann
Jacques Offenbach

Lovely night, oh, night of love
Smile upon our joys!
Night much sweeter than the day
Oh beautiful night of love!
Time flies by, and carries away
Our tender caresses for ever!
Time flies far from this happy oasis
And does not return
Burning zephyrs
Embrace us with your caresses!
Burning zephyrs
Give us your kisses!
Your kisses! Your kisses! Ah!
Lovely night, oh, night of love
Smile upon our joys!
Night much sweeter than the day
Oh, beautiful night of love!
Ah! Smile upon our joys!
Night of love, oh, night of love!
Ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah!

Lakmé – brief synopsis

Composed in 1881 and premiered two years later on April 14, 1883, at Opéra Comique, Paris, Leo Delibes’ opera Lakme was a great success.

Setting:
Delibes’ Lakme takes place in late 19th century India. Due to British rule, many Indians practiced Hinduism in secret.

Act I
Nilakantha, a high priest of the Brahmin temple, is outraged that he is forbidden to practice his religion by the British forces occupying his city. Secretly, a group of Hindus makes its way to the temple to worship, and Nilakantha meets with them to lead them in prayer. Meanwhile, his daughter, Lakme, stays behind with her servant, Mallika. Lakme and Mallika walk to the river to gather flowers and to bathe. They remove their jewels (as they sing the Flower Duet) and place them upon a nearby bench before getting into the water. Two British officers, Frederic and Gerald, are on a picnic with two British women and their governess. The small group stops by the flower garden near the temple’s grounds and the girls spot the lovely jewelry on the bench. They are so impressed by the jewels’ beauty, they request copies of the jewelry’s design be made, and Gerald agrees to make the sketches for them. The small group continues to stroll along the garden path while Gerald stays behind to finish his drawing.

As Gerald diligently finishes his pictures, Lakme and Mallika return. Startled, Gerald hides in a nearby bush. Mallika departs and Lakme is left alone to her thoughts. Lakme catches movement out of the corner of her eye and sees Gerald. Instinctively, Lakme cries out for help. However, when Gerald meets with her face to face, they are immediately attracted to one another. When help arrives, Lakme sends them away. She hopes to find out more about this British stranger. Alone with him once more, she realizes her folly and tells him to leave and to forget that he ever saw her. Gerald is too captivated by her beauty to heed her warning, and so he disregards her commands and continues to stay. When Nilakantha finds out that a British soldier has trespassed and defiled the Temple of Brahmin, he swears vengeance.

Etc.

Delibes

Léo Delibes, in full Clément-Philibert-Léo Delibes, (born February 21, 1836, Saint-Germain-du-Val, France—died January 16, 1891, Paris), French opera and ballet composer who was the first to write music of high quality for the ballet. His pioneering symphonic work for the ballet opened up a field for serious composers, and his influence can be traced in the work of Tchaikovsky and others who wrote for the dance. His own music—light, graceful, elegant, with a tendency toward exoticism—reflects the spirit of the Second Empire in France.

Delibes studied at the Paris Conservatoire under the influential opera composer Adolphe Adam and in 1853 became accompanist at the Théâtre-Lyrique. He became accompanist at the Paris Opéra in 1863, professor of composition at the Conservatoire in 1881, and a member of the French Institute in 1884. His first produced works were a series of amusing operettas, parodies, and farces in which Delibes was associated with Jacques Offenbach and other light-opera composers. He collaborated with Ludwig Minkus in the ballet La Source (1866), and its success led to commissions to write his large-scale ballets, Coppélia (1870), based on a story of E.T.A. Hoffmann, and Sylvia (1876), based on a mythological theme. In the meantime, he developed his gifts for opera. The opéra comique Le Roi l’a dit (1873; (The King Said So) was followed by the serious operas Jean de Nivelle (1880) and Lakmé (1883), his masterpiece. Known for its coloratura aria “Bell Song,” Lakmé contains “Oriental” scenes illustrated with music of a novel, exotic character. Delibes also wrote church music (he had worked as a church organist) and some picturesque songs, among which “Les Filles de Cadiz” (“The Girls of Cadiz”) suggests the style of Georges Bizet.

The Tales of Hoffmann

The Tales of Hoffmann, French Les Contes d’Hoffmann, operetta by German-born French composer Jacques Offenbach, with a French libretto by Michel Carré and Jules Barbier. The operetta premiered in Paris on February 10, 1881. It was the last and easily the most serious of the many Offenbach operas. Its premiere came posthumously. Left unfinished at Offenbach’s death, the work was completed by the composer’s colleagues. The opera is perhaps best known for its barcarolle “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour,” originally a duet for soprano and mezzo-soprano, though often heard in instrumental transcriptions.

Background and context
Like the play, the opera is based on three of the psychologically complicated and fantastic stories of the German Romantic author and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann. Those stories are “Der Sandmann” (“The Sandman”), “Rath Krespel” (“Councillor Krespel”; Eng. trans. “The Cremona Violin”), and “Die Geschichte vom verlorenen Spiegelbilde” (“The Story of the Lost Reflection”). The opera was intended for the 1877–78 season at Paris’s Théâtre de la Gaîté-Lyrique, though Offenbach missed the deadline by a large margin. When he died in 1880, he had not yet finished its last acts. Determined to bring the work to the stage, the theater’s managers brought in composer Ernest Guiraud to finish the opera in time for its long-delayed premiere. Further revisions followed.

The Tales of Hoffmann has no “official” version. Among the points of debate among music historians are Offenbach’s intentions regarding sung recitatives versus spoken dialogue. Even the order of the opera’s acts has been varied. The opera opens and closes with scenes of Hoffmann’s obsession with Stella, an opera singer. In between are visions of his passions for three other women. Offenbach’s original plan was that those three acts would serve as a kind of spiritual journey from youthful infatuation (the Olympia act) through mature love (the Antonia act) to the indulgences of an idle wastrel (the Giulietta act). In contemporary performance, however, the second and third acts are sometimes switched.

Given the debate, not only opera directors but also conductors and musicologists have taken on the task of reimagining Hoffmann. Numerous alternate versions exist, each with its own advocates. One particularly notable version was crafted by American musicologist Michael Kaye, who, in studying Offenbach’s original drafts, restored music for the muse Nicklausse and expanded the Giulietta act, increasing its dramatic impact. For musicological and theatrical reasons, those and other changes that Kaye suggests attracted a strong following, and it may yet become the standard version of Hoffmann.

Also problematic is the number of singers required for the principal roles. In each act, the leading tenor is the character of Hoffmann. However, the principal baritone is named Lindorf, Coppélius, Dr. Miracle, or Dapertutto, depending on the scene at hand. The featured soprano may take the role of each of Hoffmann’s loves—Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta, and Stella—in turn. Evidence reveals that Offenbach intended one soprano to perform all the roles and one baritone as well, so as to clarify the notion that those different characters are different aspects of a single personality. Baritones have not protested, as their four roles resemble each other in music style. The four soprano roles, however, make quite different demands upon the voice—from light coloratura to intense drama—so it requires an exceptional soprano to take on all roles.

Jacques Offenbach

Jacques Offenbach, original name Jacob Offenbach, (born June 20, 1819, Cologne, Prussia – died October 5, 1880, Paris, France), composer who created a type of light burlesque French comic opera known as the opérette, which became one of the most characteristic artistic products of the period.

He was the son of a cantor at the Cologne Synagogue, Isaac Juda Eberst, who had been born at Offenbach am Main. The father was known as “Der Offenbacher,” and the composer was known only by his assumed name, Offenbach. Attracted by Paris’s more tolerant attitude toward Jews, Offenbach’s father took him there in his youth, and in 1833 he was enrolled as a cello student at the Paris Conservatoire. In 1844, having been converted to Roman Catholicism, he married Herminie d’Alcain, the daughter of a Spanish Carlist. In 1849, after playing the cello in the orchestra of the Opéra-Comique, he became conductor at the Théâtre Français. In 1855 he opened a theatre of his own, the Bouffes-Parisiens, which he directed until 1866 and where he gave many of his celebrated operettas, among them Orphée aux enfers (1858; Orpheus in the Underworld). He then produced operettas at Ems in Germany and an opéra-ballet in Vienna, Die Rheinnixen (1864; Rhine Spirits). Returning in 1864 to Paris, he produced at the Variétés his successful operetta La Belle Hélène (1864). Other successes followed, including La Vie Parisienne (1866), La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (1867), and La Périchole (1868). From 1872 to 1876 he directed the Théâtre de la Gaîté, and in 1874 he produced there a revised version of Orphée aux enfers. Described then as an opéra-féerique (“a fairylike opera”), this venture was a financial failure. In 1876 he made a tour of the United States. The remaining years of his life were devoted to composition.