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Repertory Archive

Léo Delibes



Léo Clement Philibert Delibes was born at St. Germain-du-Val in the Department of Sarthe, France in 1836. He died in Paris in 1891 aged nearly fifty-five. He studied at the Paris Conservatory and at once appeared before the public as a composer of successful operettas, operas and ballets. Of the ballets, Coppelia, and to a lesser extent, Sylvia, are favorite specimens. His appointment to the Opera as accompanist (1863) and second chorus-master (1865) turned his interest towards ballet. But opera drew him back and he wrote three works for the Opera-Comique — Le Roi l’a dit (1873), Jean de Nivelle (1880) and the famous Lakme (1883). Succumbing to (or exploiting) the current vogue for “the mysterious East,” an opera comique tradition refreshed by the Romantic poets’ fascination, Delibes set his tale on the English Lieutenant and the Indian girl Lakme with a wealth of delightful mock-Oriental melody. It is chiefly for the charming coloring of the scoring that Lakme and the ballets retain an appeal which led Tchaikovsky to rate Delibes above Brahms. In melody, harmony, and orchestration Delibes had that graceful, light-handed touch which is always welcomed by musicians and non-musicians alike.
Like Chabrier, but in a lesser degree, Delibes has influenced many composers of a very different temperament from his own. Sources:
Oxford Companion of Music, 10th Edition
Oxford Concise Dictionary of Opera