Review Roundup: Lakme, Opera Orchestra of New York

Meeting the Challenge in an India of Fantasy

“Lakmé” is another operatic triumph of unquenchable melody over theatrical forgettability. The “Bell Song” is an Olympic event for coloratura sopranos. The Lakmé-Mallika duet has sung itself into the hearts of even the most anti-opera television viewer: once a manifestation of Oriental languor, now a commercial jingle exhorting the easy joys of air travel.

Delibes’s opera, an instant hit at its premiere in 1883, returned in more subdued circumstances to Carnegie Hall on Sunday evening. Eve Queler’s long-running Opera Orchestra of New York gave us what we have come to expect: unstaged (or barely staged) opera, a decent orchestra decently conducted, repertory out of the everyday and the lure of lesser-known singers often ready to be better known.

We are in colonial India. Lakmé is the local beauty, Nilakantha her angry and revolution-minded father. Gérald is the English officer reduced to un-English emotional rubble by Lakmé’s charms. Hindu choruses (here the New York Choral Society) coo winningly in the background.

The rest you can guess, except maybe that poison — not knives, swords or consumption — brings down the final curtain. Delibes’s pleasant, sometimes harmonically interesting opera has nothing to do with England, colonialism or India. Its melodies move with a series of generic Far East wiggles: a kind of chinoiserie easily applicable to Japan, China, India or any place sufficiently distant from Paris’s Opéra-Comique.

Ms. Queler did find us an extraordinary singer, while surrounding her, as these events usually do, with vocal competence and not a lot more. I have no idea where Eglise Gutiérrez goes from here, but I cannot imagine a voice more suited to a part or a part to a voice. Ms. Gutiérrez sang the title role with pure intonation and a luxurious cushion of sound. Experiencing such softness (not to be confused with faintness) was a little like feeling high-quality cashmere. The “Bell Song” was elegant, with every hurdle gracefully cleared: Sunday’s audience went wild.

I do hold a brief against the person who taught Ms. Gutiérrez that unfortunate repertory of exotic-dancer arm waving (or if it was her idea, did not talk her out of it). James Morris as Nilakantha, arms by his side and acting with his voice, had the right idea. Mr. Morris continues to be indestructible and sounded better and better as the evening wore on. Gérald is the kind of light tenor role that French opera loves, but Yeghishe Manucharyan’s voice — pretty but fragile — may have been lighter than necessary.

Among the other principals, Daniel Mobbs’s Frédéric was a consistent success, as was Heather Johnson’s Mallika. Ellie Dehn (Ellen), Stephanie Weiss (Rose), Wanda Brister (Mistress Bentson) and Gaston Rivero (Hadji) were quite acceptable. Ira Siff was the stage director.
(New York Timtes, thanks, Peter Gourevitch!)

Eglise Gutierrez Pure As A Bell In Délibes’ “Lakmé”
Leo Délibes’ 1883 “Lakmé” was an instant success. Not only did it play on Europeans’ fascination with the Far East (India, in this case), it also featured lovers whose loyalty to their own beliefs – hers to the Hindu religion, him to the British army and his fiancée – would keep them apart, a zealous priest/father figure and familiarity with exotic/poisonous flowers. Within this framework, Délibes could compose music that was perfumed in the more “oriental” scenes and pure Romantic in the scenes for Lakmé and her British officer/star-crossed lover, Gerald. The music is always tuneful and smooth; their love duets are gentle. A duet for soprano and mezzo is notably famous and is used in countless advertisements and films and Lakmé’s famous “Bell Song” is one of the great soprano showpieces in the operatic literature. The opera may not be a masterpiece, but its charms are irresistible given the right soprano, and, to a slightly lesser extent, tenor (a good bass Nilakantha, the father/priest, helps too). It is an opera that has never really disappeared from the repertoire (and will not as long as there are sopranos who wish to show off their staccati, agility and stratospheric high notes), and an occasional outing with it holds some rewards.

Ms Queler’s leadership was, as suggested, on the quick side, but she has an affinity for this type of sweet music that is admirable. Her orchestra played well, and the large New York Choral Society sang with grand tone and involvement. Again, New York audiences are getting to know a new star – Ms Gutierrez, specifically – thanks to Ms Queler’s keen ear. (Classics Today; thanks, Katie Wikoff!)

Eglise Gutierrez redeems herself with a triumph
“I must admit I was not looking forward to this concert when it was announced last year after the “Mignon”. Gutierrez I was later informed was ill that night but I wondered how she would fare since she has been performing professionally for less than five years.

Well, she did wonderfully as she evidently did in the same role in Sarasota, as I was informed by a trusted friend. Her voice is not a prototypical thin light coloratura. It is a fairly lush lyric like the Swenson, Futral or June Anderson of ten or more years ago with a coloratura extension. This is advantageous for “Lakmé” which outside of the virtuosic “Bell Song” is full of long lyrical outpouring over a fairly lush full orchestration. Eglise’s range of color and greater volume were a decided asset here. The middle of the voice has a darkish undertone and lush creaminess with no edge on the tone, just soft spinny radiance. She has an easy if occasionally slow to get started pianissimo that she can sustain for a long time. The top has sweetness and spin. The trills are superb – birdlike and clearly defined. Her high staccati and high E sopracuti are done in a kind of overtone over the full natural lyric soprano voice. It is effective and on this occasion (unlike the Philine last year) well integrated into the voice with no “trick” sounds or gear-shifting detectable. I think that has her voice further matures (I am pretty sure she is in her mid-twenties) the voice will get larger and the coloratura extension will be less facile. She is singing Gilda, Lucia and other leggiero roles but also has several Liu in “Turandot” performances planned. This is a purely lyric role that I think could also work well in her voice. Something like Juliette is also ideal for her now and in a few years she will be a lovely Violetta.” (more…) (Opera-l; thanks Marty Finkelman.)

Luscious LAKME at Carnegie Hall by OONY; Gutierrez garners bravas
“Last night’s performance of LAKME by the Opera orchestra of NY was memorable in many, many ways. It may have not been note perfect, but there was great talent on stage, and moments of bliss and ecstasy musically. Maestra Eve Queler led the up and coming EGLISE GUTIERREZ in the title role and she shone throughout. With her were YEGHISHE MANUCHARIAN’s soft and subtle tenor as Gerald; they blended beautifully in the blissful duets, especially in the forest scene of Act III. James Morris was an intense and raging Nilikantha, and DANIEL MOBBS a true supportive baritone as Frederic. HEATHER JOHNSON sang Mallika, and shone along with Ms. Gutierrez in the gorgeous opening “Dome epais” duet, now so clicheed. The Indian women wore gorgeous sari-like gowns and the staging by IRA SIFF used this and important hand and body movements to really much of the drama in the work. (OPERA-L, thanks, Peter Gourevitch)

OONY open rehearsal

“It was a wonderful performance tonight by the cover cast. Amy Hansen gave a total outstanding performance of the title role. She has recently performed it with the Calgary Opera…but tonight (even tho only with piano) it was a memorable evening. From floating soft pianissimos to thrilling top E’s for the Bell Song, Ms. Hansen was in total command of the
part. Philip Cokorinos sang a sonorous and truly chilling Nilakantha. Tho pressed by the extremes of the role, Dan Paget gave a good account of Gerald and Weston Hurt sang Frederic with good line and sense of style. Ryu-Kyung Kim as Mallika blended beautifully with Ms. Hansen and the NY Choral Society sang very well. It was a fine evening…and hopefully the Sunday night performance will be as good as this one was.Thank you Ms. Queler for making this evening so enjoyable.” (OPERA-L)
Updating Albert Without Changing A Word
“Léo Delibes’ endearing “Lakmé” came to Carnegie Hall February 26 thanks to Opera Orchestra of New York. Most people don’t realize how much there is to enjoy in this score beyond the Bell Song and the Flower Duet familiar from “The Hunger” and British Airways commercials. One cannot say that Eve Queler conducted with much sensitivity or style; she rushed her leading lady unforgivably at the Bell Song’s climax, and she plainly has little concern for sung French in auditioning singers. Yet she gets points for doing “Lakmé” at all, and for hiring two excellent young singers as the romantic leads and director Ira Siff to give the evening some drama.” (more…) (Gay City News)