Lakmé, Opera Holland Park, review: About as authentically Indian as a tikka masala but perfectly cooked nevertheless

The costume and designs gesture toward the Orient but never travel further than Surrey

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The Independent Culture

Billy Connolly famously defined an intellectual as “someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger”. It’s a joke reincarnated for a new generation with the Flower Duet from Delibes’s Lakmé, now so insistently and indelibly associated with British Airways.

But it’s only rarely that we get to hear the rest of the opera. This Merchant Ivory distillation of Orientalism – Hindu girl meets British boy during the Raj, tragedy ensues – is as heavy with melody and orchestral colour as it is light on psychological development. Wisely, then, Aylin Bozok’s new production for Opera Holland Park is largely content to provide pretty, period stage-pictures to accompany the superb playing of the City of London Sinfonia under conductor Matthew Waldren.

Just as Delibes’s score is East through Western eyes, all romance and rounded corners, so designer Morgan Large’s set and costumes gesture towards India without ever travelling much beyond Surrey. It’s a wise choice, in tune with vocal performances that retain a certain English charm even at their most Gallic. Fflur Wyn’s Lakmé is small but perfectly formed, her Bell Song a glittering highlight, while Robert Murray draws muscular passion from the feckless Gérald.

This pastel-coloured Lakmé is about as authentically Indian as a tikka masala – a natural and attractive fit for Delibes’s soft-focus fantasy of a score.