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Opera de Montreal’s season opener Lakmé is a splendidly big, whistle-able old-fashioned opera with a thumping set and a deep pool of talent, some of it local. If you’re looking for originality and the future of the art, or anything else to feed your head, then it’s not for you. But you should still go, if only to hear Audrey Luna’s thrilling voice while you read a book.

I had to be carried in as usual but I still noticed the recently installed statues on the grand staircase of Salle Wilifred-Pelletier. These smiling Indian girls in saris silently greeted the audience, and we passed warily, expecting to be offered a new credit card. Or were they waiting for one of us to break the spell and free them? Or did they need tickets? Or maybe by decorating the entrance they were supposed to lend authenticity to an opera with a 19th-century armchair idea of India sung by a hastily bronzed cast. Or they represented one of the sponsors. Whatever. Welcome to Quebec. Who knows how much longer they’ll be allowed to wear saris.

The scene inside was more sophisticated: dukes, up and coming farmers, and curiously flush police officers basking in the conviviality of the secret parterre bar. Seated and served, we faced a hideously magnified Mughal miniature with looping videos of the cast doing their makeup and smiling at the camera, projected on either side real approachable-like. It was silly, but a gesture in the right direction. Then the projections disappeared and the blow-up ascended to reveal a verdantly big budget set—an Australian co-production that they’ve amortized over seven years, so far, but this is the only way companies can afford to do flash these days. Otherwise they’d have to get creative.

Conductor Emmanuel Plassson extracted some motion from the pit, a thrust that Delibes’ dramatic but not terribly sophisticated music absolutely needs, but it was the singers who made the production remarkable, starting with the accidentally-starring Luna, resplendent as Lakmé. She has an astonishing soprano. It was unrecognizable from the stratospheric contortions she performed the last time I heard her, in the Met’s Tempest, but it was characteristically effortless. We only got to hear her because Eglise Gutierrez dropped out, probably from envy.

Tenor John Tessier was a fine Gerald, his crispness veering into tightness only once or twice; Burak Bilgili was an excellent bass cannonade as Lakmé’s father, who we are supposed to fear; baritone Dominique Côté was lushly overbearing as Frédéric; soprano Emma Char was gorgeous, a buttery contrast to Luna’s coppery tone that gave fresh flavour to their famous duet; Florie Valiquette, Rachèle Tremblay, and France Bellemare filled out the necessary female characters in the opera with ease. Bellemare’s debut was especially promising. It seems that the current students of the Atelier Lyrique are a fine crop.

The season is off to a slick start, with Falstaff next. I hope all this year’s leading singers will be upgraded by accident. And I would hope the same for the stage directors, but I don’t believe in miracles.

The next performance is September 24th and details are at