Love may be blind, but the love story being staged by Opera Theatre of the Rockies figures to be a feast for the senses, according to artistic director Martile Rowland. And it's got impressive depth, too, given that it's about true love mending the wounds of conflict between Eastern and Western cultures.
First performed in Paris in 1883, Léo Delibes' Lakmé captures the tension that persisted for nearly a hundred years during the British colonization of India. It's a type of discord that spans time and borders, says Rowland.
"This is happening all over the world today; we have it in our own country," she says. "People with different belief systems can either hate each other or accept the fact that this is why we live in this country, so we can all have our versions of what we think life and belief are. This [opera] is all about that same thing."
Being performed for the first time in nearly 50 years in Colorado, the opera tells the story of an unexpected and forbidden love affair between British soldier Gérald, played by tenor Drake Dantzler, and Hindu priestess Lakmé, played by lead soprano Brittany Ann Reneé Robinson.
Lakmé is a beautiful, young and curious woman on the precipice of discovering what the world has to offer outside of her confined life. Gérald happens upon her and her servant Mallika, played by mezzo soprano Valerie Nicolosi, singing by the river one day. As opera goes, it's love at first sight.
But in the world outside, the British are forcing the Indian people to practice their religion in secret, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of the latter. The tension between the two cultures boils over when Nilakantha (baritone Nicolas Shelton), the head Brahman priest and Lakmé's father, discovers his daughter's passionate relationship.
Dantzler and Robinson, who are Michigan- and New York-based, respectively, also worked together in last year's production of Die Fledermaus. (That was directed by Linda Ade Brand, who has returned to kick off OTR's 16th year, dubbed "A Season of Exotic Splendor.") Their vocal demands for Lakmé are broad — so broad, in fact, that this opera is rarely done. As a result, OTR is drawing interest from all over the state, which Rowland casts as something of a first.
"People can see something they may never see again in their lifetime," she says.
Amid a vibrant display of authentic Hindu rituals and Indian culture, thanks to the local Natyasangam dancers, the audience will hear enchanting and even recognizable music, notes Robinson. The "Flower Duet," performed by Robinson and Nicolosi, has appeared in countless TV and movie scenes and even British Airways commercials.
And the opera's ubiquitous theme of bridging cultural gaps translates locally. Restaurants in the community, including India Palace, Everest Nepal and Little Nepal, will give a portion of their proceeds during the Lakmé weekend to OTR, which in turn will be encouraging audiences to dine out and further immerse themselves in Eastern culture.
"It doesn't take much except to open your heart to someone who is different than you and that maybe can bring peace to the world, one person at a time," says Rowland. "One person's love can change the world, and that's pretty powerful."