Personalities | Léo Delibes | Turn of the Century | Opera

1836–91, French

Delibes was initially taught by his mother and uncle before entering the Paris Conservatoire. He worked as an accompanist and chorus master at the Théâtre Lyrique as well as writing occasional music. Delibes soon completed his first full stage work, Deux sous de charbon (1855), which was produced in 1856. His second work, Deux vieilles gardes, which was produced only a few months later, was a great success. Delibes was soon garnering praise for his wit and melodic facility. His natural medium was the operetta, and he developed a style that also lent itself easily to ballet. Delibes’ appointment in 1864 as chorus master at the Paris Opéra extended his opportunities and two ballets, Coppélia (1870) and Sylvia (1876), made his name, as well as remaining in the repertoire today.

Delibes harboured a desire for a grander, more serious work and his admiration for both Meyerbeer and Bizet resulted in his masterwork. Lakmé is set in colonial India and follows two lovers whose attempts to be together are thwarted and who die with tragic beauty for each other’s love. In its exoticism and careful reserve, Lakmé is very much of its time. The strength of the music and the opportunities it affords the prima donna, however, have ensured that it remains a popular work. Following the triumphant premiere of Lakmé at the Opéra-Comique in 1883, Delibes was assured of a solid future. However, he suffered from a lack of self-belief and wrote very little in the ensuing years.

Sounds Familiar

The ‘Bell Song’ and ‘Flower Duet’
Léo Delibes’ music has been particularly fashionable with transport advertisements. P&O Stena Line used the ‘Bell Song’ from Lakmé (1883) but the most popular has been the ‘Flower Duet’ from the same opera. Originally used by British Airways in 1998, it later advertised the Ford Galaxy before being re-appropriated by BA.

Introduction | Turn of the Century | Opera
Personalities | Emmy Destinn | Turn of the Century | Opera
Houses & Companies | Opéra-Comique | Early Romantic | Opera
Houses & Companies | Paris Opéra | High Romantic | Opera
Techniques | Operetta | Turn of the Century | Opera


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