Meyerbeer: Robert le Diable
Meyerbeer’s opera was an enormous hit in 1831, helping to set the new form of grand opéra on a glorious course it would maintain until Wagner came along and spoiled the party. Laurent Pelly’s 2012 Covent Garden production – the first there since 1890 – was less successful, experiencing numerous casting alterations and not much liked by the critics; neither, in some cases, was Meyerbeer’s work itself.
Before hasty judgements are passed on the latter, it might be worth pointing out how heavily cut the opera was, though that will scarcely mollify those who already found it far too long. Pelly stands up for the piece in a short interview also featuring cast members, but his staging, as the Blu-ray version accentuates, offers a garishly coloured satirical romp through the original, rather than a serious exposition of its themes. Somewhere inside the piece, there’s a moral tale about the title character’s good-versus-evil dilemma, torn between his boon-companion Bertram (who turns out to be his father and the devil himself) and the women he either loves or who love him. Here its essential seriousness comes over intermittently at best.
Meyerbeer’s vocal writing demands virtuoso singing, and receives that here. Bryan Hymel hurls himself unstintingly at the title role, impossible high notes and all. Marina Poplavskaya suggests the spiritual inspiration of Alice, while Patrizia Ciofi is a worthwhile if mature Isabelle. John Relyea’s Bertram is willing but ultimately feels like a small-scale demon. Daniel Oren’s conducting needs more conviction. Overall, it’s a mixed result.