Video: Video Finds: Music — Duet from “Lakmé” |
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Video Finds: Music — Duet from “Lakmé”

Beautiful women warbling together aren’t necessarily what the grand opera is all about, but they can give the potential fan a flying start, especially when you consider that pulchritude was quite often exactly what the male composer had in mind. In the female ensemble numbers he wrote for Der Rosenkavalier and Arabella, Richard Strauss clearly meant that his principal women should be driven mad by the mere sight of one another, even if you might not draw the same conclusion from the singers you see in the opera house. In Lakmé, Delibes wrote a “Flowers Duet” for coloratura and mezzo in which the two women get to sing the sonic definition of beauty. It can’t hurt if, the first time you encounter it outside a television commercial, the duet is being sung by two singers who look the part. When, in Baden Baden in 2007, Anna Netrebko and Elīna Garanča sang the piece in concert, the German television director had the tact to shoot the pictures cleanly, with the minimum of technical tricks. The result is ravishing beyond all legitimate expectation, although a strict fashionista might have advised Garanča to go easy on the frills next time. Later on in the long trek towards knowledge, the beginner will have to start using his imagination, but with this extract his imagination will be flat out just keeping up with what’s there in front of him. The purist, convinced that all this physical splendour has nothing to do with anything, can always look away while he listens.