Place des Arts had much to celebrate last Saturday.   Not only was it the 50-year anniversary, to the day, of Salle Wilfrid Pelletier’...

Place des Arts had much to celebrate last Saturday. Not only was it the 50-year anniversary, to the day, of Salle Wilfrid Pelletier’s inauguration, then known as La Grande Salle de Place des Arts, but it also coincided with the grand kickoff to the 2013-14 Montreal Opera season.    

For this edition, the honour went to a richly colored and beautifully staged Lakmé, the 1883 masterpiece by Léo Delibes. To help set the scene, Indian women in saris stood long the grand staircase in a nice touch to raise the anticipation of the season’s Première performance. 

Audrey Luna & Burak Bilgili ©Yves Renaud

Set in an unspecified part of India during the time of British colonization, it tells the story of Brahma-worshipping Nilakantha, his daughter Lakmé, and the English officer Gerald with whom she falls in love. Swearing revenge on the foreigner who dared enter his temple, a disguised Nilakantha compels his daughter to sing to the point of exhaustion, hoping this will lure the stranger. From here, the scene unfolds somewhat ‘à la Hamlet’, from Nilakantha observing Gerald’s reaction to Lakmé’s enchanting Bell song, to stabbing him in an effort to end his life. Lakmé takes a wounded Gerald deep into the forest to care for him, only to come to terms with the fact that he cannot be hers.
Audrey Luna, John Tessier © Yves Renaud 2013

In typical grand opera denouement, the plot moves swiftly from Nikalantha’s secret jungle temple, to the procession of Act 2, and back to the jungle, this time in a hut. Although clocking in at almost 3 hours the action, along with 2 intermissions made for some swift pacing.

Set and costume designer Mark Thompson’s backdrops were truly a feast for the eyes, and richly depicted an Indian temple, a market square, and secret hut in the forest time and place, and the costumes effortlessly brought us back to period with flowing and gilded Indian saris, contrasted with British colonial dress.
John Tessier, Dominique Côté, Florie Valiquette, Rachèle Tremblay, France Bellemarre © Yves Renaud  
One minor drawback came at the start of Act 2 when the entire chorus enacted a scene at the market.  Although the ensemble more than held their own with well-choreographed movements and clear and distinct singing, the lush backdrop, colorful costumes, and number of props combined to make the stage seem somewhat crowded.

The other was with John Tessier as Gerald. While competent enough, at times he felt almost overpowered, or wedged in between the other 2 leads. In fact, the whole of it felt somewhat held together at its core by the strong and captivating performances of both Burak Bilgili as a dominant and vengeful Nilakantha, and a pitch-perfect Audrey Luna in the title role. In every song she touched Luna managed to convey nuanced, heartfelt emotions of her character. Lakmé is far from an easy role to master and she made it look and sound effortless.

Audrey Luna ©Yves Renaud

Worth mentioning were confident support performances from talent such as Florie Valiquette as Gerald’s fiancé Ellen, France Bellemare as Ellen’s friend Rose, and Rachèle Tremblay as governess Mistress Bentson - watch for all 3 in next Spring’s production of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. 

Overall, Lakmé weaves us an enchanting, almost hypnotic tale in a context that combines history, religion, exoticism, and makes for a great night out this week. 

Performances Sept. 24, 26, 28 7:30PM
Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts


Salle Wilfried Pelletier 17084697904132746

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