Opera and Romanticism
Scott Repatriated?: La Dame blanche Crosses the Channel
Christina Fuhrmann, Ashland University
Earlier versions of this paper were presented in 2004 at the Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies Conference, Iowa City and the North American British Music Studies Association Conference, Oberlin. I would like to thank participants at these conferences, Russell Weaver, Gillen Wood, and the anonymous readers for this journal for their suggestions and comments on previous drafts.
1 For Scott’s crucial, often conflicted role in creating this image, see especially Davis, Acts of Union, Gamer, Glendenning, Gold and Gold, Harvie, and Withers. For links between Scotland, Scott, and the supernatural, see especially Le Tellier and Parsons. As Scott himself rather wryly commented in The Bride of Lammermoor, “this would not be a Scottish story, unless it manifested a tinge of Scottish superstition” (Scott, Bride 187).
3 Scott’s works enjoyed numerous dramatizations and formed the basis for more opera libretti than any other author except Shakespeare. For the immensity of this phenomenon, see, for example, Bolton and Mitchell, Walter Scott and More Scott. Although Scott published his novels anonymously until 23 February 1827, his authorship was widely surmised well before this date. John Payne Collier even wittily referred to him as “the great known” (The Morning Chronicle, 10 October 1826). Although newspaper reviews of the time were anonymous, in many cases we do know the probable reviewer. To avoid constant, awkward wording such as “the critic we believe to be x,” I use those critics’ names of which we are reasonably sure. See Fenner 11-53.
4 Boieldieu’s La Dame blanche (1825) arrived in 1826, Rossini’s La Donna del Lago (1819) in 1823, his pastiche Ivanhoé (1826) in 1829, and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) in 1838. See Loewenberg.
5 Loewenberg does not list any performances of these operas in Scottish cities. Bolton indicates that a “Scotch pas d’action” from La Dame blanche (1825) appeared in Glasgow in 1831, and that an Italian company performed La Donna del Lago (1819) in Edinburgh in 1835. Bolton 30, 374.
6 Todd and Bowden 455. These two novels form the primary sources for the libretto, although Favre suggests The Lady of the Lake, Le Fantôme blanc, and an anecdote about vassals protecting their exiled master’s estate as other possible models. Favre 2:115.
8 Boieldieu was one of the only foreign composers to use actual Scottish tunes in his setting of Scott. See Fiske 102-04. Boieldieu himself, however, insisted that he only used “Robin Adair.” See Rivista Musicale Italiana (1915): 522, qtd. in Favre 2:125.
9 La Dame blanche reached its thousandth performance in Paris in 1862. Soon after its premiere, the opera appeared throughout France and the rest of continental Europe. In 1826 alone, for example, it played in Liège, Brussels, Vienna, Berlin, Pressburg, and Copenhagen. See Loewenberg 698-99.
10 For the repertoire of the King’s Theatre in the early nineteenth century, see Fenner, Hall-Witt, and Loewenberg. To my knowledge, between 1800 and 1830 the only non-Italian language operas to merit translation were Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (1791) and Spontini’s La Vestale (1807).
12 So prevalent were French imports on the English stage that J. Augustine Wade quipped “[w]henever ... any thing rises to the rank of being accounted a lively and entertaining piece, it is a moral certainty that it is a translation from the French.” The Athenaeum, 1828, 13. Often these were plays, but opéras-comiques had appeared regularly since the late eighteenth century, usually with substantially new scores. See Armondino. A few of Boieldieu’s works had already made their way to Covent Garden, where Jean de Paris (1812) appeared in 1814, Le petit chaperon rouge (1818) in 1818.
13 For example, Guy Mannering appeared in numerous versions starting in 1816, Rob Roy in numerous versions starting in 1818, The Heart of Midlothian in 1819, The Antiquary, Old Mortality, and Ivanhoe in 1820, The Legend of Montrose in 1822, The Fortunes of Nigel in 1823, and The Talisman and Peveril of the Peak in 1826. See Biddlecombe and Fiske, Bolton, and Mitchell Walter Scott and More Scott.
14 Guy Mannering had appeared in versions at: Covent Garden (1816, still playing in 1826, prepared with Scott’s blessing); The English Opera House (1821, taken from a French version); Sadler’s Wells (1821); and The Cobourg (two versions, 1821 and 1826). On the other hand, there had been only one version each of The Monastery and The Abbot, in 1820 at Sadler’s Wells and the Tottenham Theatre, respectively.
17 In the same season as The White Lady, for example, Paton appeared in English versions of Guy Mannering and Peveril of the Peak. Apparently, however, the latter had also occasioned some reluctance. In his tirade against Paton’s refusal of The White Maid, Payne noted “[t]his is not the first time of Miss Paton’s trifling with managers; and the same circumstance of which we now complain would have occurred in the last new opera, Peveril of the Peak, had she not more prudently relented.” The Opera Glass, 11 December 1826. Sibling rivalry may have added a final layer to the controversy, since Paton’s less celebrated sister, a Miss I. Paton, had played the White Lady at Drury Lane to good reviews.
19 As the Atlas critic noted, “[i]t is idle to talk against putting women into male attire—is there a man on the stage whom the house could have put in this long and pleasant part of George Brown? We can think of none of them in [Vestris's place] without horror” (7 January 1827). The main tenor at Covent Garden that season seems to have been Antonio Sapio, whom John Payne Collier criticized as “deficient in expression and variety, and although he sings … without any fault which a mere musician can point out, he produces little or no effect upon the mind of the hearer” (The Morning Chronicle, 21 February 1827).
20 Doctors’ notes sometimes appeared on playbills, perhaps to assuage audiences’ suspicion. Reports also surfaced of performers being too ill to appear onstage, but not too ill to attend other events. See, for example, Wooddeson 27.
21 As the Theatrical Observer critic gently rebuked, “We doubt not that we shall find similar beauties in other parts of the composition, when the pantomime-loving galleries will give us leave to hear the whole distinctly” (3 January 1827).
26 The Literary Gazette, 14 October 1826. Emphasis mine. Fenner lists Thomas Billington, Thomas Greenwood, or Miss Wilkinson as possible reviewers during this time period, so I have left the gender of the reviewer open (53).
27 John Payne Collier, critic for the Morning Chronicle, was a well-known Shakespeare scholar now rather infamous for his fabrications of literary documents. Edward Sterling was another important figure, of Scottish descent but raised in Ireland, who dominated the Times during this period. Although we can only guess their motives, Collier’s literary interests and Sterling’s Scottish heritage and strong political views may have contributed to their negative assessments (Stephen and Lee). Paton’s desertion may also have been bound up with Sterling’s vitriol. On 7 December, the Times reprinted verbatim an article from the Opera Glass that chastised Paton for her refusal. Paton then wrote a letter to the Times in protest (9 December 1826). That The Times initially supported Payne against Paton, yet then ran the most virulent criticism of Payne’s version, may indicate that some alienation over this issue occurred.
28 Tirelessly vaunting his own more faithful version, and hinting at the reason for tardiness, Payne wrote “[t]he novelty advertised for Drury Lane is deferred; the reason assigned is indisposition,—but the performers did not, on dit, get their musical parts delivered till Tuesday last,—and the extreme difficulty of studying them at so short a notice, may readily account for the sudden illness … We do not know how much of Boieldieu’s music is retained, but we are convinced, it must require more talent than was ever yet found in a theatre to do it justice, if it is all retained, in a week’s (we may say, even a month’s) rehearsal” (The Opera Glass, 9 October 1826).
29 Nelson and Cross, entry for 12 November 1826. Authors tended to be paid an initial sum—Payne reported that Beazley received a hefty £300—and then a fee based on nights performed. The Opera Glass, 2 October 1826. See also Stephens Profession 25-41.
30 In February 1823, La Donna del Lago appeared in full, in Italian, at the King’s Theatre, then in English excerpts at the oratorio performances at Covent Garden and Drury Lane. Lucia di Lammermoor ran at the King’s Theatre in Italian in 1838, in English at the Princess’s in 1843, and in French for one night of a benefit performance by a Belgian company at Drury Lane in 1845.