Natalie Dessay Lakme Hair
Léo Delibes: Lakmé
Most of us would be hard pressed to describe the characters, plot or musical development of Delibes’s three-act opera Lakmé.
Its resurgent popularity in the 1990s was down to one thing: the use of one particular section of the opera in a certain television commercial. The Flower Duet first appeared in a British Airways advert in 1989 and quickly became one of the most well-known pieces of classical music in Britain.
Up until then, the opera had lain in relative obscurity. Its only slight success had been that, unlike other operas by the composer, this one had remained in the repertoire of major opera companies worldwide and continued to be held in high esteem by the classical music cognoscenti. It’s a tragic opera set in the Orient, a place known for its beautiful flowers – hence the title of this duet, sung by the principal character Lakmé and her slave Mallika. The sumptuous, exotic music is light, delicate and instantly beautiful, much like the flowers it depicts.
The Flower Duet’s use in popular culture isn’t restricted only to those British Airways commercials. More recently, it’s been heard in films such as Meet the Parents and True Romance and television shows including The Simpsons.
Natalie Dessay (soprano) as Lakmé; Delphine Haidan (soprano) as Mallika; Gregory Kunde (tenor) as Gerald; José van Dam (bass-baritone) as Nilakantha; Toulouse Capitole Choir and Orchestra; Michel Plasson (conductor).
EMI Classics: CDS 5565692.
Illustration: Mark Millington
Philippe Cassard has established an international reputation as concerto soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician since giving a joint recital with Christa Ludwig in Paris in 1985. The same year, he was finalist at the Clara Haskil Piano Competition; three years later, he won first prize at the Dublin International Piano Competition.
Mr. Cassard has performed as soloist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Orchestre National de France, and many more. He regularly visits China, Australia, South America, and Canada, and has worked with many conductors, including Sir Neville Marriner, Jeffrey Tate, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Yan Pascal Tortelier, Raymond Leppard, Charles Dutoit, Armin Jordan, Marek Janowski, Emmanuel Krivine, and Thierry Fischer.
Mr. Cassard's performance of the complete piano works of Debussy (four recitals in a single day)-presented in London (Wigmore Hall), Dublin, Paris, Lisbon, Sydney, Singapore, and Tokyo-received extremely enthusiastic press and media coverage. Released by Decca, the collection was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque in 1994.
Mr. Cassard also performs a large repertoire of chamber music, and has appeared with such artists as Angelika Kirchschlager, Wolfgang Holzmair, Cédric Pescia, Paul Meyer, David Grimal, Anne Gastinel, Matt Haimovitz, and Isabelle Faust; as well as with the Ebène, Modigliani, Takács, Auryn, Vanbrugh, Danish, and Chilingirian string quartets.
His recording of Schumann's Humoreske and Fantasiestücke was named Editor's Choice by Gramophone. Mr. Cassard's other releases (Schubert's Impromptus and Brahms's Klavierstücke, Op. 116-119) have been received very warmly. His recent Schubert recording (including the Piano Sonata in
A Major, D. 959, and four-hands piano music) with Swiss pianist Cédric Pescia for La Dolce Volta was awarded Classica's 2014 Choc de l'année.
Mr. Cassard served as artistic director of the Nuits Romantiques du Lac du Bourget festival from 1999 to 2008. Since 2005, he has presented more than 400 live programs dedicated to piano interpretation on France Musique radio. He has written an essay on Schubert, and a book on cinema and music.