Francois-Adrien BOIELDIEU (1775-1834)
Die Weisse Dame (“La Dame Blanche”) Opéra-comique in 3 Acts [100:18]
Georges Brown - Amar Muchhala (tenor)
Gaveston - Dionisos Tsantinis (baritone)
Dickson - Christopher O’Connor (tenor)
Anna - Paola Leggeri (soprano)
Jenny - Mara Mastalir (soprano)
Marguerite - Anne Catherine Wagner (mezzo)
Eugène Scribe - Matthias Hinz (narrator)
RIAS Jugendorchester/Gernot Schulz
rec. live, Schlosstheater Rheinsberg 23-26 July 2008
GENUIN GEN 10534 [43:56 + 56:22]

By the end of this review - if you get that far - you may feel that I have not appreciated the real merits of this set. Perhaps that I have not given sufficient credit to the mainly young performers who have bravely undertaken live performances of an opera which was in dire need of revival. Let me say at once, then, that much of what is heard here is of high quality, especially the orchestra whose playing goes well beyond what one would normally expect from a pit orchestra playing an unfamiliar work. There are slips, certainly, but no more than you would happily ignore at a live performance. The solo singers, too, deserve high praise for tackling parts where flexibility and beauty of tone is a first requirement. Admittedly they do not achieve either throughout the performance but there are few moments of discomfort for the listener and much to enjoy.

What then, are the drawbacks? First, the language. I am a strong advocate of live opera being sung in the vernacular, especially comic opera and especially when it is unfamiliar. I can therefore understand and applaud singing it in German before a German audience, but inevitably this is not very satisfactory for an English-speaking audience who are likely to prefer it in English or the original French. The main problem however relates to the producer’s decision to cut the original spoken dialogue and replace it with a German narration spoken by an actor taking the part of Eugène Scribe, the original librettist. I admit to having understood only parts of this, but if the laboured joke about Walter Scott being from Scotland followed by hysterical laughter after it is typical then I am fortunate. Worse is the extraordinary decision to split the Overture - one of the composer’s best - into two parts separated by the opening narration. This is simply unmusical, as is what is presumably the narrator’s sneeze during the lovely horn solo in the introduction to George Brown’s Cavatina in Act 2. I assume that this is a stage effect as otherwise it could have been edited out by using a recording from another performance. I found myself increasingly irritated by the narration, especially when it is over the music, and whilst lengthy French dialogue can be dull if not fully understood at least it does not harm the music in the way that it does here.

The booklet is entirely in German and contains only a synopsis, without a libretto. The recording catches some audience and stage noise but not to a particularly distracting extent. I am sure that these discs will provide a pleasant reminder of the performances to those present, and to admirers of the singers. Others are however more likely to respond to the very considerable charms of the opera in the recording with Rockwell Blake and Annick Massis under Marc Minkowski reissued recently by EMI (00946 395118 2 2). With competition like that the present discs are at an overwhelming disadvantage.

John Sheppard

Much of what is heard here is of high quality but with competition from EMI this set is at an overwhelming disadvantage.