February 21 is the anniversary of the birth of Léo Delibes.
Delibes was either dismissed as a lightweight or hailed as the greatest creator of melodies ever. It all depends whom you talk to. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzche said Delibes “made no pretensions to depth”, whereas Tchaikovsky, upon hearing the score of the ballet Sylvia said, “what charm, what wealth of melody! It brought me to shame, for had I known of this music, I would have never written Swan Lake.”
After studies with Adolph Adam (the composer behind the ballet music of Giselle) Delibes achieved fame during his lifetime, especially for the ballet music Sylvia and Coppélia, and operas Le roi l’a dit and Lakmé. His music influenced not only Tchaikovsky, but also Saint-Saëns and Debussy.
For those of you old enough to remember the British Airways television commercial in the late 80s featuring the music of two sopranos, it was Delibes’ music, the “Flower Duet” from his opera Lakmé. (Edits and drumbeats were added for the commercial.) The opera premiered in Paris in 1883, and the duet depicts Lakmé and her servant Mallika gathering flowers by the river.
The “Flower Duet” is definitely a gem, and it was fortunate Delibes’ gift for melody served as an inspiration to other composers and didn’t put them off their craft. And thank goodness Tchaikovsky still wrote Swan Lake.
“Flower Duet” with sopranos Elina Garanca and Anna Netrebko.
Clément Philibert Léo Delibes was born February 21, 1836, in Saint-Germain-du-Val, France, and died January 16, 1891 in Paris.