La donna del lago
On the shores of Lake Kattrine in Scotland, in the first half of the 16th century.
At daybreak a group of shepherds are peacefully starting their work in the fields, while huntsmen gallop into the forest in pursuit of prey (Chorus: Del dì la messaggiera). Elena – the lady of the lake – after crossing the water as she does every day – tenderly recalls her beloved Malcom Groeme, who is far away but always uppermost in her thoughts (Elena’s cavatina: Oh mattutini albori!). Having reached the lakeside, the lady encounters James V, king of Scotland. Attracted by her legendary beauty, and disguised as Uberto of Snowdon, the king has been waiting there to make her acquaintance. Elena, believing that the unknown man has lost his companions during a hunt, generously offers him hospitality in her home. Enraptured by the lady’s beauty, Uberto joyfully accepts and goes off with her (Duettino: Scendi nel piccol legno), while the huntsmen in his retinue try in vain to catch up with him (Chorus: Uberto! Ah! Dove t’ascondi?).
In Elena’s modest home.
Her faithful friends Albina and Serano await the arrival of Rodrigo of Dhu, chief of the Highland Clan – a faction opposed to James V, and intent upon conquering those lands not yet subject to his rule. Rodrigo, moreover, has been betrothed to the young lady by her father Duglas.When he is ushered into the house, Uberto recognizes the insignias of his own ancestors. He then learns from Elena that she is the daughter of Duglas of Angus, formerly tutor to the king but now his adversary and a follower of the Highland Clan. Meanwhile Elena’s lady companions enter and remind her of the love that Rodrigo, her future husband, bears towards her (Chorus: D’Inibaca, donzella). Uberto’s jealousy is aroused. From her answers he gathers however that Elena’s heart is not pledged to Rodrigo (Duet: Le mie barbare vicende). Induced to hope from this circumstance and from Elena’s kind ways, Uberto takes leave of the lady of the lake (Duet: Cielo! in qual estasi). When everyone has left the house, Malcom enters. Having left the royal palace to follow in Elena’s footsteps and to join the Highland Clan, the young man rapturously recalls the happy moments spent with his beloved (Malcom’s cavatina: Elena! oh tu, che chiamo!). Preceded by Serano, Elena returns in the company of her father Duglas. The latter announces to his daughter the forthcoming arrival of Rodrigo and her imminent marriage. He orders her, despite her attempts to oppose his schemes, to obey promptly (Duglas’s aria: Taci, lo voglio, e basti). When Duglas has left, Malcom, who, unseen, has witnessed the previous scene, meets Elena. They swear everlasting love (Duettino: Vivere io non potrò).
On a wide moor.
The warriors of the Highland Clan welcome with festive songs the arrival of the valiant Rodrigo (Chorus: Qual rapido torrente). After greeting them warmly, Rodrigo anxiously looks for his future bride (Rodrigo’s cavatina: Eccomi a voi, miei prodi). Elena, accompanied by a suite of damsels and preceded by her father, is welcomed by happy songs (Chorus: Vieni, o stella) that clash with her distressed mood. The girl’s perturbation is made worse first by the words of her father, who reminds her of her duties as a daughter, and second, by the declarations of Rodrigo, who publicly professes his love for her (Finale: Quanto a quest’alma amante).At the head of his warriors, Malcom now appears and is favourably received by Rodrigo who introduces him to Elena as his future wife. Although the girl prudently tries to conceal their secret bond, both Rodrigo and Duglas understand the true feelings that unite the couple. The scene is interrupted by the arrival of Serano who announces an imminent enemy attack. Rodrigo invites his warriors to swear upon their arms to win or die, while a meteor – omen of victory – crossed the sky and accompanies the army’s departure (Stretta: Su…amici! Guerrieri!).
In a thick wood.
Uberto has returned to look for Elena, with whom he is now deeply in love and whom he would like to save from the impending dangers of war (Uberto’s cavatina: Oh fiamma soave). In the meantime the girl asks her friend Serano to trace her father, who should have joined her before the battle. Left alone, Elena is joined by Uberto who declares his love to her. She at first urges him to keep calm and then sharply rejects his proposals. Her heart in fact burns with love for another man. Before leaving, however, Uberto hands her a signet-ring given to him by the king of Scotland. This will serve her in case of peril, and whenever she may decide to show it, all her wishes will be granted (Trio: Alla ragion deh rieda). Rodrigo, unseen, has overheard the whole of their conversation. Consumed with jealousy, he summons his warriors and orders them to kill the unknown traitor. Elena, flinging herself in Uberto’s defence, manages to placate the soldiers’ anger. Rodrigo then decides to fight personally with Uberto.
The two men go off, while Elena attempts without avail to calm the fury of their respective supporters.
In a cave.
The gallant Malcom in the meantime has momentarily abandoned the bloody battle raging between the Highland Clan and James V’s troops, to look for Elena. Serano informs him that she has gone to the palace to follow her father, who has gone there to implore peace from the king. Upon hearing news of Rodrigo’s death and of certain victory by the royalist army, Malcom departs, having resolved to save his beloved or to face death on the battlefield (Malcom’s aria: Ah! si pera: ormai la morte).
A room in the palace of James V at Stirling.
Duglas, on the strength of their former ties, begs the king’s royal pardon for his daughter and people. But James V severely dismisses the elderly tutor. Elena, having just reached the palace and been admitted, thanks to the ring given to her by Uberto, recognizes the rooms in which she spent her early childhood. She is now determined to intercede to save the lives of her father, of Malcom, and of Rodrigo, whom she believes still to be alive. From the adjoining rooms she is surprised to hear the voice of Uberto, who in a gentle song celebrates his love for her (Canzoncina: Aurora! ah sorgerai). Elena runs trustfully to him: Uberto himself shall lead her into the king’s presence.
In the throne room.
The ladies and knights are gathered around the king (Chorus: Imponga il Re). Elena tries in vain to approach him but the mystery is soon cleared: James V is none other than Uberto of Snowdon.The king forgives his old tutor Duglas and restores him as well as the brave Malcom, to their former dignity. Elena joyfully embraces her father and he lover (Elena’s rondo: Tanti affetti in tal momento), while everybody rejoices in peace regained.
Synopsis by Alberto Bentoglio, translated by Rodney Stringer