Lakmé is an opera in three acts by Léo Delibes to a French libretto by Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille, based on the 1880 novel Rarahu ou Le Mariage de Loti by Pierre Loti. It was first performed in 1883 at the Opéra Comique in Paris, another French opera capturing the ambience of the East that was in vogue during the latter part of the nineteenth century: Bizet's Le Pecheur de Perles, Massenet's Le Roi de Lahour, et al.
The story is set in the late nineteenth century, during the British Raj in India. Many Hindus have been forced by the British to practice their religion in secret. Gerald, a British officer, accidentally trespasses the grounds of a sacred Brahmin temple. He encounters Lakmé, the daughter of the high priest, Nilakantha. Gerald and Lakmé fall in love. Nilakantha learns of the British officer's trespassing and vows revenge on the man who has blasphemed the sacred Brahmin temple.
At a bazaar, Nilakantha forces Lakmé to sing (Bell Song) in order to lure the trespasser into identifying himself. When Gerald steps forward, Lakmé faints, thus giving him away. Nilakantha stabs Gerald, wounding him. Lakmé brings Gerald to a secret hideout in the forest where she nurses him back to health.
While Lakmé fetches sacred water that will confirm the vows of the lovers, Frederic, a fellow British officer, appears before Gerald and reminds him of his duty to his regiment. After Lakmé returns, she senses the change in Gerald and realizes that she has lost him. She dies with honor, rather than live with dishonor, killing herself by eating the poisonous datura leaf.
There are several recordings of this work, and it is occasionally performed.
The most famous music from the opera is the Flower Duet, which has been used in film (I've Heard the Mermaids Singing, The Hunger); commercials, most notably for British Airways but also for Ghirardelli Chocolate Company and Robert Trent Jones Golf Courses and in TV shows such as The Simpsons and The L Word.