Opera Theatre of the Rockies will present three performances of Leo Delibe's "Lakme" beginning Thursday. Under the leadership of producer and artistic director Martile Rowland, they are doing all they can to honor the "grand opera" tradition and make this tragic story, of clashing cultures and forbidden love set in India in the late 1800s, blossom.
Set in British India in the mid-19th century, "Lakme contends with the clashing of cultures and is built around the tragic story of a forbidden love between the title character, a Brahman princess, and Gerald, a British army officer. Rarely produced, the score does contain two musical highlights that are well known: Act I's "Flower Duet" and Act II's "The Bell Song" ("L'Air des clochettes").
"It is my job to try and put together the pieces of the operatic puzzle," said Rowland.
"The magic doesn't normally appear until the end of the creative process when all the hard work has been done. By its very nature, opera is a 'bigger than life' art form, and the process is grand as well. So to sum it up: I pick the best people I can find to fill in the blanks and then I sit in the rehearsal room and let them get to work."
What follows are some of the people who helped bring "Lakme to life.
Dan Brink, music director
(with Opera Theatre since 2001)
"Lakme the Brahman princess, and Gerald, her British love interest, are both fiendishly difficult to sing, mainly because the tessitura (range of the majority of the singing) is quite high. We decidedly have the right people in Brittany (Robinson) and Drake (Dantzler), so this will be a beautiful production.
The chorus really has their hands full. They're on stage a lot, and that means a lot of French pronunciation, so that's the big challenge there - getting all those French vowel sounds sorted out. In so many ways, it's typical late romantic French stuff, but Delibes handles the exotic references with some very effective use of altered scales, and in general, his harmonic palette is very advanced, surprising and engaging."
Linda Ade Brand, stage director
(with Opera Theatre since 2012)
"In a beautifully written piece such as this one, the words and music totally support the emotional life of the characters. I see my job as taking what the composer/librettist has given us and then working hand in hand with my singers to bring this story and these characters to vibrant life. Ultimately, we're telling a quite intimate story about two people from very different cultures who dare to dream that they can somehow be together. I think we'll find the more intimate size of the Armstrong Theatre to be an excellent match for this piece."
Christopher Zemliauskas, conductor
(with Opera Theatre since 2012)
"There are challenges with every opera regarding stage/pit coordination. I do my best to rehearse the singers (with piano) to reflect what they will eventually hear from the orchestra, so that there are no surprises at the sitzprobe (a music-only run-through with singers and orchestra). We're using a slightly reduced orchestra for this production, including fewer strings and brass. This should solve many of the balance problems we might encounter in a smaller theater. We're keeping all of the percussion, as they supply much of the Eastern 'color' for the piece."
Bonmayuri Kalita, choreographer and director of the Natyasangam Dance
Academy (company debut)
"It is certainly not the norm for Bharat Natyam, the classical dance of India, to be set to Western music or to accompany an opera. And choreographing Indian classical dance to Western music is not a straightforward act. Ballet is quite the opposite of Bharat Natyam. Since an orchestra provides the music for the Bharat Natyam dance in 'Lakme' I mainly utilized an eight-count beat for the dancer's movements. The footbells of the dancers (Ghunghroos) create the rich rhythmic patterns typically provided by Indian instruments. The dancers are basically playing musical instruments with their feet! My motive was to add the pure, authentic beauty of Indian dance to the opera."
Maureen Ross, costume director
(with Opera Theatre since 2000)
"The challenging part of the costuming is finding the right costume for each person, in the style of the character, and the size and fit. Our principal singers are not always the same height or size as the original singers. In the 'Lakme rental, the costumes built for the character Lakme were constructed for a short singer and our Lakme is tall and statuesque. Consequently the costumes won't work for her, so I am building new ones for each act.
"I sometimes have to build pieces or even whole costumes for various principals or chorus members, coordinating them with the overall look and color scheme of the original designer."
Sarah Opstad, wig/makeup designer
(with Opera Theatre since 2003)
"Designing the wigs and makeup for 'Lakme included submerging myself into research of British India during the mid-19th century. As an artist, it is my job to create this world with the most realistic and innovative wig and makeup techniques. At Opera Theater of the Rockies. we use film-quality, lace-front, human hair wigs. The makeup applications convey the correct time period and accurate portrayal of the culture and characters in the opera."