Although grossly neglected on contemporary stages, Leo Delibes produced a sumptuous opera in 1882. Thursday night in Armstrong Theatre, conductor Christopher Zemliauskas magnified this music and sent it up on the stage. There, soprano Brittany Robinson in the title role of the Brahman priestess Lakme gathered in these orchestral colors and textures to produce a sound and spirit that dwarfed the sum of the parts. This was a performance for which words can do no justice.
There were many fine performances and components in Opera Theatre of the Rockies production of this French classic set in British India in the mid-19th century. Robinson's shimmering stage presence, engaging internalization of her character's dramatic conflicts and crystal clear, yet sultry, voice relegated them to supporting roles.
In the numerous operatic performances I have witnessed, there has been nothing quite like this. By the final act of the opera, when Robinson's character experiences the extreme highs and lows of her forbidden love for British army officer Gerald, I found myself anticipating and then totally relishing each time the soprano sang. I previewed no classic recording that equaled her sensual and artistic achievement.
As Gerald, Lakme's object of desire, tenor Drake Dantzler projected just the right countenance to contrast these highly-divergent cultures. His light, lyric voice never failed to hit the vocal mark while it furthered the development of his character. As suggested above, he was musically overshadowed by Robinson.
The role of Lakme's father, the Brahman priest Nilakantha, requires a special vocal talent. Making his company debut, bass Nicholas Shelton offered a rich sound that managed the dramatic and lyric with great sensitivity. His only shortcoming was an inability to effectively spin the top of his vocal range.
As it should be, Lakme's servants offered excellent dramatic and vocal support. Mezzo-soprano Valerie Nicolosi's Mallika helped to make the famous "Flower Duet" with Robinson the musical highlight it should be. Tenor Douglas Denning's company debut as Hadji was a welcome surprise. His Act II arioso pledging his unconditional support to Lakme was especially moving.
Back to the British. The trio of Solveig Olsen, Sarah Stone and Karin Wilcox brought fine vocalism and entertaining acting to the libretto's stereotyped depiction of English females. Tenor Brian Harris was miscast as officer Frederic. His voice was consistent but fell short of the power and color required to properly realize this baritone role.
The chorus, prepared by Dan Brink and Deborah Teske, projected good stage presence and fine sound. There were some rhythmic inaccuracy in the Act II and they had difficulty finding their theatrical footing in Act I's worship sequences.
In fact, the first act fell short of the rest of the opera. Stage director Linda Ade Brand had her performers well motivated and moved for the lion's share of the production, but left some problems unsolved in the opening. Particularly troubling was the static end to Act I, which, at that juncture, left the success of the production in doubt.
The biggest and most welcome surprise of Lakme was the performance of the Natyasangam Dance Academy and the choreography of their director Bonmayuri Kalita. Their authentic Indian dance and attire connected the opera to its fictional place of origin. It was a fine choice to utilize their talents in more than just the prescribed dance sections of Act II.
The choice of Armstrong Theatre was a mixed blessing. The production fit well in the space and afforded an intimacy that played well during Lakme and Gerald's love scenes. But the acoustics are very dry. The sound of the singers stayed on the stage and was frequently hard to hear when they were not up front. The sound of orchestra, comprised largely of Colorado Springs Philharmonic principals, was laid bare and any inaccuracies were very apparent. Otherwise, they performed as a virtuoso ensemble.
Who: Opera Theatre of the Rockies
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Armstrong Theatre, Colorado College, 14 E. Cache La Poudre St.
Tickets: $25-$35; 646-3127, operatheatreoftherockies.org
Something Else: Sung in French with English supertitles
Next: "The King and I," July 25-27