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Clément Philibert Léo Delibes (1836–91)

Léo Delibes

‘Sous le Dôme Épais’
    from Lakmé (1883)

“... what charm, what wealth of melody! It brought me to shame, for had I known of this music, I would have never written Swan Lake.”

“Indeed, over the last few years I cannot think of anything apart from Carmen and Delibes’ ballet that has so seriously enchanted me.”

— Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
of Delibes’ ballet Sylvia

Léo Delibes was among the first composers to create serious orchestral works for ballet. He received his early training at the Paris Conservatory and worked initially as an organist and as an accompanist and chorus master for Paris opera companies. His early compositions were in the operetta and light-opera vein associated with Jacques Offenbach, with occasional music for the theater. A collaboration with Ludwig Minkus on the ballet La Source (1866) brought him attention and commissions and led to his two major works for ballet, Coppélia (1870) and Sylvia (1876), which so impressed Tchaikovsky.

He came to opera through his ballet compositions and smaller works for theater. Lakmé, his masterpiece and final opera, continues to be performed, and its two most famous pieces, “Où va la jeune Indoue?” (the Bell Song) and “Sous le dôme épaisthe” (the Flower Song), are are part of the standard recital repertoire.


Sous le Dôme Épais  (“The Flower Duet” from Lakmé)
First performance: April 14, 1883, in Paris; Libretto: Philippe Gille, Edmond Gondinet

Synopsis
The opera, of star-crossed intercultural love, is set in British-ruled India in the late 19th century. As the British attempt to suppress native religions, Hindu worshippers have gone underground, conducting their rites and traditions in secret. The Brahmin high priest Nilakantha is on the way to a gathering of Hindus at a sacred temple. His daughter, the priestess Lakmé, and her servant Mallika are gathering flowers at the river and sing Sous le dôme épaisthe (“The Flower Duet”).

Two British officers, Frederic and Gérald, are nearby having a picnic with two young British women — Miss Ellen, Gérald’s fiancée, and her friend Miss Rose — with Mistress Bentson, their governess. The two parties do not meet, but Gérald and Lakmé do encounter each other. Lakmé, startled to meet a British officer, initially cries for help but declines the help when it arrives. Nilakantha comes, is enraged to learn that a British officer has met Lakmé, and swears revenge as a matter of honor.

There is a fight later at a bazaar. At Nilakantha’s command, Lakmé sings the Bell Song, which attracts Gérald. She faints, Gérald tries to assist her, and Nilakantha stabs him, but the wound is not fatal. Lakmé takes Gérald into hiding and cares for his wound. Their love grows. While Lakmé is fetching sacred water that will seal their vows of eternal love, Gérald’s fellow officer Frederic arrives, describes Gérald’s duties as a British officer, and reminds him that he must leave soon for a new and distant post. Lakmé finds a different Gérald when she returns and understands that his loyalties must lie with the British. Facing public dishonor, her father’s anger, and separation from Gérald, Lakmé sees little hope for happiness. She eats a poisonous plant. Gérald, overcome by her devotion and faithfulness, drinks the sacred water. Lakmé dies in his arms.

Lakmé
Dôme épais le jasmin
Mallika
Sous le dôme épais où le blanc jasmin

Lakmé
À la rose s’assemble,
Mallika
À la rose s’assemble,

Lakmé
Rive en fleurs, frais matin,
Mallika
Sur la rive en fleurs, riant au matin,

Lakmé
Nous appellent ensemble.
Mallika
Viens, descendons ensemble.

Lakmé
Ah! glissons en suivant
Mallika
Doucement glissons; De son flot charmant

Lakmé
Le courant fuyant;
Mallika
Suivons le courant fuyant;

Lakmé
Dans l’onde frémissante,
Mallika
Dans l’onde frémissante,

Lakmé
D’une main nonchalante,
Mallika
D’une main nonchalante,

Lakmé
Gagnons le bord,
Mallika
Viens, gagnons le bord

Lakmé
Où l’oiseau chante,
Mallika
Où la source dort.

Lakmé
l’oiseau, l’oiseau chante.
Mallika
Et l’oiseau, l’oiseau chante.

Lakmé
Dôme épais, blanc jasmin,
Mallika
Sous le dôme épais, Sous le blanc jasmin,

Lakmé
Nous appellent ensemble!
Mallika
Ah! descendons ensemble!

Lakmé
Mais, je ne sais quelle crainte subite
s’empare de moi.
Quand mon père va seul à leur ville maudite,
Je tremble, je tremble d’effroi!

Mallika
Pour que le Dieu Ganeça le protège,
Jusqu’à l’étang où s’ébattent joyeux
Les cygnes aux ailes de neige,
Allons cueillir les lotus bleus.

Lakmé
Oui, près des cygnes aux ailes de neige,
Allons cueillir les lotus bleus.

Lakmé
Dôme épais le jasmin
Lakmé
Sous le dôme épais où le blanc jasmin

Lakmé
À la rose s’assemble,
Mallika
À la rose s’assemble,

Lakmé
Rive en fleurs, frais matin,
Mallika
Sur la rive en fleurs, riant au matin,

Lakmé
Nous appellent ensemble.
Mallika
Viens, descendons ensemble.

Lakmé
Ah! glissons en suivant
Mallika
Doucement glissons;
De son flot charmant

Lakmé
Le courant fuyant;
Mallika
Suivons le courant fuyant;

Lakmé
Dans l’onde frémissante,
Mallika
Dans l’onde frémissante,

Lakmé
D’une main nonchalante,
Mallika
D’une main nonchalante,

Lakmé
Gagnons le bord,
Mallika
Viens, gagnons le bord

Lakmé
Où l’oiseau chante,
Mallika
Où la source dort.

Lakmé
l’oiseau, l’oiseau chante.
Mallika
Et l’oiseau, l’oiseau chante.

Lakmé
Dôme épais, blanc jasmin,
Mallika
Sous le dôme épais,
Sous le blanc jasmin,

Lakmé
Nous appellent ensemble!
Mallika
Ah! descendons ensemble!

Lakmé
Thick dome of jasmine
Mallika
Under the dense canopy where the white jasmine,

Lakmé
Blends with the rose,
Mallika
That blends with the rose,

Lakmé
Bank in bloom, fresh morning,
Mallika
On the flowering bank, laughing in the morning,

Lakmé
Call us together.
Mallika
Come, let us drift down together.

Lakmé
Ah! Let’s glide along
Mallika
Let us gently glide along; For its enchanting flow

Lakmé
The fleeing current;
Mallika
Let us follow the fleeing current;

Lakmé
On the rippling surface,
Mallika
On the rippling surface,

Lakmé
With a nonchalant hand,
Mallika
With a nonchalant hand,

Lakmé
Let’s go to the shore,
Mallika
Come, let’s go to the shore

Lakmé
Where the bird sings,
Mallika
Where the spring sleeps.

Lakmé
the bird, the bird sings.
Mallika
And the bird, the bird sings.

Lakmé
Thick dome, white jasmine,
Mallika
Under the dense canopy, under the white jasmine,

Lakmé
Call us together!
Mallika
Ah! Let’s drift down together!

Lakmé
But, an eerie feeling of distress
overcomes me.
When my father goes into their accursed city
I tremble, I tremble with fright!

Mallika
In order for him to be protected by Ganesh
To the pond where joyfully play
The snow-winged swans
Let us pick blue lotuses.

Lakmé
Yes, near the swans with wings of snow,
And pick blue lotuses.

Lakmé
Thick dome of jasmine
Mallika
Under the dense canopy where the white jasmine,

Lakmé
Blends with the rose,
Mallika
That blends with the rose,

Lakmé
Bank in bloom, fresh morning,
Mallika
On the flowering bank, laughing in the morning,

Lakmé
Call us together.
Mallika
Come, let us drift down together.

Lakmé
Ah! Let’s glide along
Mallika
Let us gently glide along;
For its enchanting flow

Lakmé
The fleeing current;
Mallika
Let us follow the fleeing current;

Lakmé
On the rippling surface,
Mallika
On the rippling surface,

Lakmé
With a nonchalant hand,
Mallika
With a nonchalant hand,

Lakmé
Let’s go to the shore,
Mallika
Come, let’s go to the shore

Lakmé
Where the bird sings,
Mallika
Where the spring sleeps.

Lakmé
the bird, the bird sings.
Mallika
And the bird, the bird sings.

Lakmé
Thick dome, white jasmine,
Mallika
Under the dense canopy,
Under the white jasmine,

Lakmé
Together call us!
Mallika
Ah! Let’s drift down together!