PERFORMER: Natalie Dessay, Gregory Kunde, José Van Dam, Delphine Haidan; Toulouse Capitol Chorus & Orchestra/Michel Plasson
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 5 56569 2
This is that rare thing, a French opera with a largely Francophone cast. But then it is hard to imagine Lakmé being recorded any other way: Delibes’s operatic masterpiece is a model of French fluency and elegance. Indeed, there are times when these elements seem more important than any sense of strong drama, but the score is rich enough in its orchestration and melodies to captivate the listener. The setting is colourful: 19th-century India, peopled by Brahmin priests and English colonials, both of which must have seemed highly exotic to the Parisian audience at the work’s 1883 premiere.
In spite of a creaky plot, Lakmé has recently had a successful revival on various stages in France, with Natalie Dessay in the title role; the part can have had few better interpreters, for Dessay is capable of both the most dazzling coloratura and colouring her voice, and the famous ‘Bell Song’ emerges as a wonderful piece of story-telling rather than mere display. Dessay is a more alluring heroine than either Sutherland (Decca) or Mesplé (EMI again) on the two previously standard recordings. With Gregory Kunde a fluent Gerald, José Van Dam a Nilakantha of imposing presence, and the score paced with real style by Michel Plasson, this is an outstanding set. John Allison