- La Dame Blanche, opera
Boieldieu's "La dame blanche" (1825) is rarely performed, but it is still probably closer to the standard repertoire than any other opéra-comique of the early 19th century. With a libretto by Eugène Scribe based on Walter Scott, the plot involves a haunted castle, mistaken identities, hidden treasure, and the reunion of long-lost sweethearts. It was one of the most popular French operas of its time, with over 1,000 performances at L'Opéra Comique alone in its first 40 years. This German-language production comes from Kammeroper Schloss Rheinsberg, a training program for young singers established by German composer Siegfried Matthus. The performance is not always up to international standards, but it is close enough often enough and the singers' enthusiasm is so infectious that it makes for a delightful presentation of this rarity. The production dispenses with most of the spoken dialogue and replaces it with clever spoken commentary by actor Matthias Hinz, who sometimes portrays Scribe himself and sometimes acts as narrator. It's an effective conceit, and judging from the laughter of the audience, must have been hilarious in the theater. (Non-German speakers will be at a loss, though, because there is no translation of the text or notes.) Most of the young singers are very fine, particularly Mara Mastalir, Paola Leggeri, Christopher O'Connor, and Dionisos Tsantinis. Tenor Amar Muchhala not entirely satisfactory in the crucial role of the hero because the quality of his voice is so frequently nasal. Gernot Schulz leads the RIAS Jugendorchester, which plays with such professionalism and panache that it would be hard to guess that it was a youth orchestra. There are some severe cuts that mar the production, particularly the evisceration of the auction scene, the musical core of the opera, and the elimination of nearly half of the music of the final act. The sound is good for a live recording, and the voices come across well. Boieldieu's music is consistently lovely and witty enough that it doesn't deserve its obscurity; this is a piece that ought to be able to hold the stage if given a chance with modern audiences. The finest recording of the opera remains Marc Minkowski's complete French version with a starry cast on EMI, but this version captures the spirit of the piece beautifully and has enough charms that it should interest opera lovers.