Operatic Saint Louis: What aspects of this opera compelled you to want to stage the piece?Lakmé runs August 21, 22, 28 & 29. Performances begin at 8pm. Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 Union Blvd in St. Louis. Sung in French with projected English supertitles. To purchase tickets or learn more about this production, please visit the Union Avenue Opera Website or call 314.361.2881
Scott Schoonover: The first thing that attracted me to Lakmé was the lush, beautiful score. After listening to the entire work and envisioning how it could be brought to life keeping intact the exotic, mysterious feel of the opera, I decided it was something we ought to to try. Furthermore, it's a well-known piece that hasn't been done in this area and I thought it would be a great opportunity to bring something new to our audience.
OSL: Lakmé deals with conflicting cultures—British and Indian—in Colonial India. In preparing to stage the opera, what sort of research did you undertake to further understand the historical context of the piece?
SS: I read the book the story is based upon by Pierre Loti (Le Mariage de Loti)—it's really quite different than the work of Lakmé itself, but it still deals with cultural differences and misunderstandings. I also revisited a couple other classics such as Passage to India for another look at the cultural landscape of Colonial India. Lastly, we only need to look at the past several years of our own history to see parallels in this story with Americans not always understanding cultural differences in other countries. This certainly isn't the point of our production and doesn't really enter the picture, but it's difficult to ignore once you get into the piece a little.
OSL: Hinduism, specifically of the Brahmins, is a major focal point for the Indian characters of Lakmé. How did you go about researching this religion?
SS: I would never say that I know a lot about Hinduism or Brahminism, but I did do some basic work researching the history of the sect as well as specific temple rites that show up in our production. Things like mudras (hand signs that encourage different deities to commune), water purification rituals, offerings, as well as the structure of the basic temple service which happens in Lakmé are all based loosely on actual temple practices.
OSL: In your view, how do the Indians of the piece relate to the British occupying their country?
SS: In private, the Indians of our story loathe the British and pray for their deliverance. The British have overtaken their way of life, thrown out their religion, while profaning their temples, and made it illegal to meet and worship. In public, the Indians do their best to cope with the situation at hand. They have to deal with the reality that the British are a practicality of everyday life.
OSL: Conversely, how do the British relate to the Indians?
SS: The British are naïve about the Indians. They see them as romantic, sensual, but not as equal, educated people. They don't have respect for cultural differences, nor care to understand what effects their actions may have.
OSL: Lakmé is perhaps best known for the famous Flower Duet—"Dôme épais, le jasmin"—sung by Lakmé and her servant Mallika in Act One. In addition to this duet, what other arias, duets and ensembles of note should audience members anticipate?
SS: I love the opening scene of the show with the chorus, Lakme and Nilankatha who all provide an exotic backdrop for the rest of the story. When the English come in, they have a delightful quintet which on many levels rivals the Carmen quintet. Gerald has a beautiful 1st act aria—"O Fantasie"—which is a lovely, tuneful showpiece for the tenor. There is of course, the famous "Bell Song" which Lakmé sings in the marketplace and several beautiful duets between Lakmé and Gerald.
OSL: How has the rehearsal process been with the cast?
SS: I would say it's been challenging but always on the right track and constantly growing into the story which we hope to present. The actual story of Lakmé presents many challenges and more than a couple contradictions which make everyone's job a little harder. All that being said, it has been a great joy to work with every member of this cast. Everyone has been ready and willing to come along for the ride and put themselves out there.
OSL: The exotic setting of Lakmé can be a designer's delight. What visuals can one expect to see in Felia Davenport's costumes, as well as Patrick Huber's sets?
SS: As far as costumes go - we are looking at fairly standard, period Indian and English costumes. Lots of colors in the Indian costumes and lack of color in the English. The sets are a simple, lush, beautiful backdrop to a few outstanding scenic elements. There is a large, imposing statue of Ganesh which is the prominent feature of Act I. The second Act takes place on the thrust of the stage with the entire Market scene played out there. The 3rd Act takes place in a secluded jungle hut.
OSL: If appealing to the "man on the street" about why they should come to see Lakmé, what would your sales pitch be?
SS: Come hear gorgeous music that is rarely heard along with the most famous Flower Duet which everyone has heard. See an exotic love story between two star-crossed lovers (this story is often called the precursor to Madama Butterfly)...and great chorus scenes.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Interview with 'Lakmé' Director Scott Schoonover
Operatic Saint Louis recently interviewed Scott Schoonover, stage director of Union Avenue Opera’s Lakmé about the production and his directorial approach. This production marks the second time Schoonover has staged a full production—the first being Dido and Aeneas in 2004.