Lakme Synopsis

Leo Delibes' 3 Act Opera

Opera singer
Leanne Kenneally (Lakme) performs during dress rehearsal at the Sydney Opera House, June 26, 2006. Patrick Riviere/Getty Images

Composed in 1881 and premiered two years later on April 14, 1883, at Opéra Comique, Paris, Leo Delibes' opera Lakme was a great success.


Delibes' Lakme takes place in late 19th century India. Due to British rule, many Indians practiced Hinduism in secret.

Act I

Nilakantha, a high priest of the Brahmin temple, is outraged that he is forbidden to practice his religion by the British forces occupying his city. Secretly, a group of Hindus makes its way to the temple to worship, and Nilakantha meets with them to lead them in prayer. Meanwhile, his daughter, Lakme, stays behind with her servant, Mallika. Lakme and Mallika walk to the river to gather flowers and to bathe. They remove their jewels (as they sing the famous Flower Duet) and place them upon a nearby bench before getting into the water. Two British officers, Frederic and Gerald, are on a picnic with two British women and their governess. The small group stops by the flower garden near the temple's grounds and the girls spot the lovely jewelry on the bench. They are so impressed by the jewels' beauty, they request copies of the jewelry's design be made, and Gerald agrees to make the sketches for them. The small group continues to stroll along the garden path while Gerald stays behind to finish his drawing. As Gerald diligently finishes his pictures, Lakme and Mallika return. Startled, Gerald hides in a nearby bush. Mallika departs and Lakme is left alone to her thoughts. Lakme catches movement out of the corner of her eye and sees Gerald. Instinctively, Lakme cries out for help. However, when Gerald meets with her face to face, they are immediately attracted to one another. When help arrives, Lakme sends them away. She hopes to find out more about this British stranger. Alone with him once more, she realizes her folly and tells him to leave and to forget that he ever saw her. Gerald is too captivated by her beauty to heed her warning, and so he disregards her commands and continues to stay. When Nilakantha finds out that a British soldier has trespassed and defiled the Temple of Brahmin, he swears vengeance.

Act II

As a ploy to draw out the unknown trespasser, Nilakantha forces Lakme to sing the "Bell Song" in the middle of the bustling bazaar. Lakme hopes that Gerald took her advice. As she sings the captivating aria, Gerald is entranced by her voice and draws close to her. Lakme faints at his appearance and Gerald is stabbed by Nilakantha. However, Gerald is only slightly wounded. In the craziness of the scrambling villagers, Nilakantha's servant, Hadji, helps Gerald and Lakme escape to a secret hiding place deep within the heart of the forest. Lakme nurses Gerald's wound and helps him fully recover.


In the hut within the forest, Lakme and Gerald hear singing in the distance. Gerald is frightened, but Lakme smiles and assures him of their safety. She tells him that the singers are a group of lovers that seek out the water of a magical spring. When drank, the water grants eternal love to the couple. Lakme has fallen deeply in love with Gerald and she tells him that she will return with a glass of that water. Gerald hesitates, torn between his duty to his country or his love of her. Lakme, love-struck, rushes off to the magical spring. Frederic has found Gerald's hiding place and enters the hut. Frederic reminds him of his duties and leaves. Lakme returns with the water, but when Gerald refuses to drink it, she realizes that his demeanor has changed. Rather than to live with dishonor, she tears a leaf from a poisonous datura tree and bites into it. She tells Gerald what she has just done and they drink the water together. Nilakantha finds their hut and enters as Lakme is dying. She tells her father that she and Gerald drank from the magical spring. In that instant, she dies.

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