Saturday, November 1, 2008

Delibes "Lakmé" The Flower Duet

While I do enjoy classical music, I mostly prefer instrumental pieces, for example Beethoven's Symphonies or tone poems such as Liszt's Preludes. I am not much of an opera fan. Having greatly enjoyed the musical Amadeus I was disappointed to find that just about everything of Mozart's that I liked was already in the film, and I found such works of his as Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute unappealing.

In college, a friend rented a favorite movie of his, The Hunger, with Susan Sarandon, David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve. A stylish vampire movie, it is just a bit too bloody for my taste, but it is quite worth seeing for those who like the genre. The greatest reward from watching it was learning of the "Flower Duet" from Léo Delibes' opera Lakmé. I immediately piurchased the opera. The bulk of it did not interest me. But the price was well paid to have a recording of that song. The story is simple. The daughter of a Hindu priest and her servant girl sing of a garden filled with flowers, jasmine and birds. I have placed some of the French lyrics and the English translation below, under the YouTube clip. The lyrics are for the part about 1:09 into the song.

In the movie The Hunger Catherine Deneuve says the "Flower Duet" is a love song, and Susan Sarandon asks Deneuve if Deneuve is seducing her. (Deneuve is.) But whether we imagine the duet as a love song or a vision of some oriental paradise, or even recall it as a theme that we have heard in commercials for Godiva Chocolate or British Airways, the melody is incomparable, the music transcendant. If you do not recognize this piece by the title, you will recognize it, and enjoy it immensely, upon hearing it.

I have chosen a performance by Carolyn Withers & Melissa Batalles accompanied only by Piano. There are other versions, with full orchestra. I think this simple arrangement shows the power of the music, without any need for strong back-up orchestration. It is divine without need for special devices. Enjoy.

Sous le dôme épais, où le blanc jasmin
À la rose s’assemble
Sur la rive en fleurs, riant au matin
Viens, descendons ensemble.

Doucement glissons de son flot charmant
Suivons le courant fuyant
Dans l’onde frémissante
D’une main nonchalante
Viens, gagnons le bord,
Où la source dort
Et l’oiseau, l’oiseau chante.

"Under the thick dome, where the white jasmine
Gathers with the rose,
On the riverbank in bloom, laughing in the morning,
Come, let us go down together.

"Gently let us slip from the pleasant rising flow,
Let us follow the fleeting current
In the shimmering stream,
Without any care,
Come, let us reach the bank,
Where the spring waters slumber
And the bird, the bird, she sings."


Mike Erickson said...

I have not heard this or heard of it before. It is very beautiful. Stunning. Thank you very much Ted.

Anonymous said...

Have you heard madam butterfly. just as with Lakme, there is one song that stands out from the rest. when you know the story and what is being sung it is transformed from an amazing exercise in harmony and melody into one of the most moving and beautiful pieces i know.
The idea behind your site is admirable Ted, i hope all goes well.
From Gary

Ted Keer said...

Thanks, Gary. Now, of course, I will have to try to find and listen to the whole of Madame Butterfly. Do you know the name of the piece to which you're refering?