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La Dame Blanche
An Opera by François Adrien Boeildieu


The story of "La Dame Blanche" (The White Lady) is founded on incidents taken from Scott’s "Monastery" and "Guy Mannering." The Laird of Avenel, a zealous Jacobite, was exiled after Culloden. He left his estates, and considerable treasure which he had amassed for the Stuart cause, in the care of his steward, Gaveston. The treasure was hidden in a statue called the White Lady, "lady," according to local tradition, being a benevolent genius attached to the Laird’s family, and accustomed at times to haunt the castle. The Laird having died in exile, and there being no tidings of his heir, Gaveston announces the sale of the castle and lands, hoping himself to obtain them at a low figure, under the assumption that nobody will outbid him from dread of the White Lady.

The day before the sale, George Brown, a young soldier just arrived in the village, has an interview at the castle with Anna, an orphan girl whom the dead Laird had befriended, and now appearing in the disguise of the White Lady. Anna recognizes George as the officer whom she had succoured after a battle, and knowing him to be the rightful heir of Avenel, she arranges that he shall become the purchaser at the sale. George has no money to make good his title. But, at the important moment, Anna discovers the treasure and presents it to George, appearing publicly in the character of the White Lady. Gaveston approaches the spectre and tearing aside the veil discovers Anna, his ward. After which, of course, George weds Anna.





"La Dame Blanche" is the work most characteristic of Boieldieu’s style. There is a certain homely tenderness in its abundance of charming melodies which, as has been said, proves its kinship to that source of all truly national music, the popular song. The Scots airs introduced into the score are exact transcriptions, but they are made to sound entirely French by their harmonic and rhythmical treatment. "Robin Adair" (not a Scots air, by the way), described as "le chant ordinaire de la tribu d’Avenel," would perhaps hardly be recognized even in Ireland, but what it has lost in raciness it has gained in sweetness.

The thoroughly organic structure of the ensembles ought to be remarked. In the finale of the second Act, for instance, we have a large ensemble of seven solo voices and chorus. All these comment upon one and the same event with sentiments as widely divergent as can well be imagined. This ensemble, and indeed the whole auction scene, almost approach the classical. The opera has -- curiously enough, considering its Scottish theme -- enjoyed an even greater popularity in France than in England. Up to June 1875 it had been performed at the same Parisian theatre 1340 times. Boieldieu modestly attributed part of his success to the national reaction against the Rossini worship of the preceding years, of which we shall hear by-and-by.





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