Hint: There's a duet about these.
The esoteric pick of the week is turning into the “esoteric pick of the every now and then.” For this edition we’re going to see if anyone can guess the piece. It's a silly idea but just go with it folks.
Name an opera that has its most famous segment near the very beginning and then fades into oblivion for the duration.
Here are some hints. This opera has a first act duet so famous that it eclipses the rest of the music in the show. There is a somewhat popular soprano aria in the second act but it’s not nearly as notorious as the duet.
Elīna Garanča & Olga Peretyatko at Le Concert de Paris, July 14, 2014
The story in this opera is about the British Raj in India but it was written by a French composer. There are only three recordings of this opera by major labels. Two of the three are by EMI/Warner the other is by Decca/London. The most famous soprano to record the lead role was Joan Sutherland. The second most famous is Natalie Dessay.
At this point opera geeks know the composition in question so let’s end the hints and go for the big reveal.
The opera is Lakmé by Leo Delibes. If you want to listen to something that is almost too sweet then this is your jam. The music is similar in tone to that of Victorian British composer, and member of the esoteric club, Charles Stanford. Lakmé's obscurity is fueled by a constant stream of sugar music.
I’m enjoying listening to Lakmé while writing but if I were watching it in a theater I would be tempted to slit my wrists in order to provide some drama. This, of course, is the reason most theaters are upholstered in red.
Lakmé never runs the risk of offending the French bourgeoisie, or any bourgeoisie for that matter. There is no political charge as I mentioned with Tosca. This lack of political conviction is probably why the music is lacking conviction and this opera is now esoteric.
The tragic ending to Lakmé is that the British officer, who has fallen in love with a Hindu girl, returns to his regiment to fulfill his duties. We can imagine the monocled audiences with grand whiskers nodding in approval as the young man returned to his regimental duties and tsch-ing their tongues when the heartbroken Hindi kills herself. "Poor, poor girl — but what was he to do? Abandon the regiment? No, no. It was for the best."
Having cut most of the sugar out of my diet, I feel as though the habit might be creeping into my musical taste as well.