Catching an International Wave: Rossini's 'The Lady of the Lake'
ACT ONE opens on a peaceful scene at a lakeshore in Scotland, just as the sun is rising. A hunting party is heard and Elena, the Lady of the Lake, appears in a boat. She sings a simple aria called "O morning dawn" and hopes to encounter the hunters -- she thinks her lover Malcolm might be with them.
But instead of Malcolm, Elena runs into a man calling himself Uberto -- though he's actually King James of Scotland, in disguise. Uberto is struck by Elena's beauty and explains that he's been separated from the rest of the hunters. Elena offers him shelter, and they leave together.
The next scene takes place at Elena's home, a cottage owned by her father. Elena tells Uberto that she is the daughter of the notorious Douglas, who is leading a rebellion against the king. Elena also reveals that her father has promised her to a man she doesn't love. But she says there is a man in her life. Uberto mistakenly hopes she might be falling for him -- not realizing that, in their fervent duet, she's actually singing about her love for someone else.
The two leave the cottage, and Malcolm appears, alone, singing of his desire for Elena. When Douglas arrives, and Elena reappears, the servant Serano announces that Rodrigo and his soldiers are nearby. Douglas is glad to hear this news, but Elena declares that she loves Malcolm, not Rodrigo. Douglas demands that his daughter obey him, and marry Rodrigo. But as soon as he leaves, Elena and Malcolm reaffirm their love.
In the next scene, in the Scottish highlands, Rodrigo greets his clansmen in a florid aria, and expresses his love for Elena. He still doesn't know that Elena is in love with Malcolm.
Malcolm almost lets the cat out of the bag, but Elena stops him. The characters are all reflecting on their troubled situation when Serano announces that the enemy has been sighted, and everyone joins a defiant chorus.
As ACT TWO begins, Uberto has returned to the lake hoping to see Elena. He expresses his feelings for her in the aria "O fiamma soave," "O sweet flame." When Elena appears, Uberto tells her he loves her. She's flattered, but says she thinks of him only as a friend.
He's disappointed, but respects her feelings -- and decides to help her if he can. He gives Elena a ring, saying he got it from James, the king. He says that if she's ever in danger, she should present the ring to James, and he'll protect her.
Their conversation has been overheard by Rodrigo. He confronts them and demands to know who Uberto really is. When Uberto says he's a "friend" of the king, he's suddenly confronted by an angry group of Rodrigo's followers. Elena prevents an all-out attack, but Rodrigo and Oberto challenge each other to a duel.
The next scene takes place in Stirling Castle, the home of King James. Elena's father Douglas has come to the king to submit, and has been imprisoned. His men have been defeated by the king's forces, Rodrigo is dead, and Douglas has offered his life in return for the safety of his clan.
Elena has also come to the castle. She has the ring she was given, and plans to make her own plea for her family. As she enters the throne room, she realizes who the man she called Uberto really is -- and the king lives up to his promise. He releases Douglas, and blesses the marriage of Elena and Malcolm as the opera ends.