Never was operatic tragedy so enjoyable.

A PROCESSION, an invocation, a ballet of courtesans, choruses onstage and off. A stabbing, a suicide. A priest, soldiers, fanatics, and faithful servants. A jungle bungalow, a temple, a bustling marketplace. A caressing soprano duet and an acrobatic "canary aria." Love, duty, renunciation, love, revenge, love, sacrifice, politics, love.

Virgil Thomson might have had Leo Delibes' Lakm鼯I> in mind when he said, "The ideal opera contains one of everything."


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The title character in this 1883 confection is a pure and beautiful Hindu priestess sequestered deep in the jungle by her stern father Nilakantha—not deep enough, though, to prevent G鲡ld, an English army officer, from stumbling upon her hideout and falling in love. It doesn't end happily, but never was tragedy more delectable. Lakm鼯I> is a dessert in three acts, a succession of one lotus-scented sweetmeat after another, staged lavishly and affectionately (with sets and costumes from the New Orleans Opera and the Chicago Lyric Opera). Some of these delicacies may seem familiar: G鲡ld's fianc饬 complete with parasol and prim governess, trips in from The Pirates of Penzance (and even offers some wryly Gilbertian observations on the relative virtues of marriageable English roses and dusky subcontinental seductresses), and the marketplace chorus of merchants recalls the one in Carmen. Yet Lakm鼯I> is not just collage. Delibes and his librettists Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille learned well the lessons of previous operas: not only how to wow an audience but also how to weave these surefire moments together into an absorbing, affecting fairy tale of a story.

Harolyn Blackwell's coloratura as Lakm頩n the onomatopoeic "Bell Song" drew thrilled applause, but even more impressive was the languorous, unaccompanied introduction to this showstopper, in which she showed off a liquid, nuanced control of color and dynamics. Kathleen Hegierski, as the servant Mallika, was her partner for the famous (thanks to British Airways commercials from a few years back) Act I duet, their two voices beautifully matched in those irresistible chains of thirds. As Nilakantha, Ding Gao was a bit woolly of voice (but not inappropriately so) and low on the blazing-eyed stage presence that the part requires.

Seattle Opera favorite Vinson Cole played G鲡ld in one of the most perfect matches between role and singer I've ever seen. Dreamily romantic (but not too swashbuckling), conflicted between love and duty (but not too anguished), Cole played the part without an iota of strain either in his acting or in his satiny tenor voice, in a portrayal that was a convincing and compelling triumph.

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