Leah Partridge provides fleeting sparks in lackluster “Lakme”

By Lawrence A. Johnson


 Leo Delibes’ Lakme deserves a better fate than it has received. Granted, the 1883 opera comique is dramatically slender, with its formulaic scenario of the ill-fated love between the title Hindu princess and Gerald, a British soldier. But Delibes’ melodic score is richer, more varied and possesses greater complexity beyond its “greatest hit,” the Bell Song coloratura showstopper.

Florida Grand Opera hasn’t presented Lakme since 1964, so give the company credit for mounting an offbeat work in a parlous economic climate where even the country’s major opera houses are racing back to standard repertory.

 Yet despite another stellar performance Saturday night by Leah Partridge—a singer whose versatility appears to have no bounds—this Lakme was a disappointment, undone by a charmless, vocally challenged male lead and enervating musical direction that managed to dampen what sparks existed.

 Partridge, singing the first-cast performances, had some moments of tonal sharpness opening night, but the Georgia-born soprano’s radiant stage presence and vocal artistry again won the day. She rose to the supreme challenge of the Act 2 Bell Song in spectacular style, evocative in the Eastern vocalise of the introduction, and sailing through the aria’s stratospheric pyrotechnics while making the scene’s dire dramatic situation evident. The soprano went from strength to strength in Act 3, delivering affecting vocalism in Lakme’s death scene.

 Her Gerald, Bryan Griffin, showed intermittent vocal inspiration, but never long enough to sustain the score’s legato lines or make an impact. Griffin has an ample tenor, but his hectoring style and lack of tonal sweetness made little of his two arias, and the singer seemed to be having some issues, with his voice cracking in the final scene. Dramatically, Griffin was even less impressive, proving an uninspired actor and cutting a rather doughy figure, unaided by some unfortunate costuming in Act 1.

The rest of the roles fared better. As Lakme’s Anglophobe father, the Brahmin priest Nilakantha, Burak Bilgili has the big bass and dramatic nasty for the role, blustering imposingly. It was good to have Aaron St. Clair Nicholson back even for the small role of Gerald’s comrade-in-arms Frederic, which the Canadian baritone made a more solid presence than usual.  Amanda Crider was a serviceable Mallika, and though the English ladies are caricatures, the parts were vividly assumed by Dorothy Byrne, Katrina Thurman and Julia Ebner.

 Adam Cook’s stiff and static stage direction added to the sense of amateur night, with one upturned palm too many, and long moments with the principals standing on the side of the stage. By trying to avoid unintentional hilarity, as the heart-broken Lakme chooses death by eating a poisonous flower, Cook merely made the dramatic climax completely confusing.

 Designer Mark Thompson’s production served up the visuals with a striking temple set and colorful costumes for Acts 1 and 2. Less successful was the bamboo hut for the final scene, which looked like a solitary detention cell at Gitmo. The singing of the FGO Chorus under John Keene’s direction was exceptional. 

 Stewart Robertson, in his final FGO season, showed some vigor in the ballet music and operetta-style passages. But, his accompaniment of singers and overall music direction was all too representative of previous podium stands: lack of coordination with the stage action, dawdling behind the singers, low energy, and a want of focus and dramatic bite. Like Banquo’s ghost, even the fallible horn playing of seasons past returned Saturday night.

 Delibes’ ballet music was retained, but in a cost-effective way with just two dancers. Even that would have been acceptable, had it not been for a comically over-the-top male dancer who seemed to have waltzed in from a Hialeah production of Cats.

 Lakme runs through Feb. 28 at the Arsht Center’s Ziff Ballet Opera House and March 5 and 7 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. Evelyn Pollock and Chad A. Johnson will sing the lead roles Feb 22, 25, 28 and March 7.  800-741-1010; www.fgo.org.

[Photo by Deborah Gray Mitchell.]

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Leah Partridge provides fleeting sparks in lackluster “Lakme””

  1. Posted Feb 22, 2009 at 7:30 pm by Bart Birdsall

    Nothing against Partridge….she is an okay soprano (I thought her best effort to date was Sonnambula), but I don’t feel she deserves to get all the plum roles that she gets from FGO. Eglise Gutierrez sang an outstanding Lakme in Sarasota and has a richer and warmer sounding voice than Partridge, which I think suits Lakme better. I wish she had returned for Lakme. Gutierrez is about to hit the big leagues, so she probably won’t return to FGO often, but I wish she had been the “house” soprano all these years until now. Leah Partridge is okay and even good in some things, but for me she does not dazzle me with her voice.

  2. Posted Feb 23, 2009 at 8:42 pm by Nina Wall

    thanks for giving the “chorus” at least one line.

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Sun Feb 22, 2009
at 4:08 pm