Francois Boieldieu's name survives on the fringes of the repertoire together with that of his near-contemporary Auber. But his most frequently recorded work is probably his harp concerto, and that one can hardly be called particularly representative. Boieldieu was first and foremostly a composer of operas, of which La dame blanche may be his main contribution (there exists at least one other recording that I have not heard). It was composed in 1825, and was apparently his last major work. It is a lively and spirited affair, generally fast-paced (Boieldieu seems to have been aware that dialogue is rather boring and attempts to get it over with as quickly as possible to get to the next musical number - the dialogue is at least delivered with machine-gun rapidity here) and colorful. Stylistically Auber may be a point of reference, but - although Boieldieu's music is thoroughly French in character - so is Rossini; there is also some use of orchestral color that sounds distinctly forward-looking. The themes are catchy if not particularly memorable and the vocal writing skillful and inventive. There is little structural coherence, however, and the opera comes across more as a sequence of numbers than a through-composed unity.
It receives a very fine performance, at least. Rockwell Blake is admirably agile and provides a well-sung, distinct characterization of Georges Brown. Jean-Paul Fourchécourt is a splendid, clear light tenor whereas Laurent Naouri's bass is strong and warm and full. On the other hand Mireille Delunsch and Annick Massis deal with the soprano parts in the most admirable manner and Sylvie Brunet provides a fine contralto portrayal of Marguerite. The chorus is spirited and vigorous and the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris provides vibrant, vivid playing under Marc Minkowski's fast-paced, energetic direction. La dame blanche isn't a masterpiece, perhaps, but it is surely an enjoyable experience in performances as fine as these. Recommended to anyone with an interest in French opera comique or the music of, say, Auber or Adam. It won't change your life, but it will provide some light entertainment, at least.