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Robert le Diable

Published Friday 7 December 2012 at 11:10 by George Hall

It was back in 1890 that Covent Garden last staged Meyerbeer’s grand opera - once a repertory mainstay that subsequently fell out of fashion with the rest of his output. It’s a brave undertaking to revive this mammoth, vocally demanding piece, and if the end result is less than convincing it is undeniably a collector’s item.

A scene from Robert le Diable at the Royal Opera House, London

A scene from Robert le Diable at the Royal Opera House, London Photo: Tristram Kenton

Born in 1791, the German-born composer moved to Italy to perfect his operatic technique and then transferred to Paris, where this Gothic fantasy about good and evil was a huge success in 1831, establishing him as the most admired operatic creator of his day. Later his erstwhile protege Wagner attacked him fiercely - on grounds at least as much racial as aesthetic (Meyerbeer was Jewish) - and his works gradually sank into near oblivion. This staging adds to a tentative sense of revival.

Robert the Devil might impress more given a serious production instead of the semi-flippant one Laurent Pelly mounts, which sends up the medieval romantic setting in a sequence of ugly and gruesomely colourful designs. Under conductor Daniel Oren, the score often feels bitty and conventional, though the temperature rises in the final act, when the Norman knight Robert discovers that his trusted companion is not merely his father but the devil himself. Bryan Hymel throws himself with success at the arduous title role, with John Relyea solid if uncharismatic as the demonic Bertram. Marina Poplavskaya is cool but vocally centred as Robert’s foster-sister Alice, who saves him from damnation, while Patrizia Ciofi is expressively expert in the coloratura role of his beloved Isabelle.

Production information

Royal Opera House, London, December 6-21

Giacomo Meyerbeer
Laurent Pelly
Royal Opera
Bryan Hymel, John Relyea, Patrizia Ciofi, Marina Poplavskaya, Jean-Francois Borras
Running time:
4hrs 30mins

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

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Run sheet

King's Head, Islington London
January 24-February 15 2014