Lakmé is a beautiful opera set in late 19th century India during the British colonial rule. During this time the Hindus had to practice their religion in secret.
I this opera, the Hindus go to perform their rights in the sacred Brahmin temple under the priest, Nilakantha. The priest’s daughter, Lakmé, and her servant, Mallika, are left to gather flowers from the river. Lakmé removes her jewelry as they approach the river bank and puts it on a bench. Then, they sing the famous “Flower Duet” as they gather flowers:
While Lakmé and Nilakantha are busy, two British officers and two British girls with their governesses arrive for a picnic. The girls see the jewelry and want the officers to sketch it. The officer, Gérald, volunteers to stay behind and sketch the jewelry. When he sees Lakmé and Nilakantha returning, he hides. Nilakantha leaves Lakmé for a minute and Lakmé discovers Gérald. At first, she is frightened and calls for help, but, then, she decides that she is more curious than frightened and sends the people who have come to her aid away. Upon getting to know one another, Gérald and Lakmé end up falling in love. When the priest discovers that Lakmé is in love with the general he vows to avenge her honor. They force Lakmé to sing a song (Bell Song) at the bazaar to lure Gérald out into the open.:
When he steps forward, Lakmé faints, exposing him. The priest stabs and wounds him and Lakmé takes him to her secret hide out in the forest and nurses him back to health.
While Lakmé goes to retrieve the sacred water to confirm their marriage vows, Gérald is visited by a fellow British officer who reminds him of his vows. Lakmé notices the change in Gérald when she returns, and rather than live with dishonor she poisons and kills herself by eating the Datura leaf.
I never knew that these two pretty songs were about gathering flowers and luring a man to his death in a lovely, tropical, enchanted area of India. What a fantastic setting! Listening to operas can really open your eyes to a different world.