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 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.