WORKS: Robert le diable
PERFORMER: June Anderson, Samuel Ramey, Alain Vanzo, Michèle Lagrange, Walter Donati, Jean-Philippe Marlière; Paris National Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Thomas Fulton
CATALOGUE NO: CD 85003 (distr. One For You) ADD Reissue (1985)
Some of us have been waiting for many years at the proverbial bus stop for a recording of Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable, and true to form no fewer than three have now come along all at once. Unfortunately, the recordings are so dire that it is still impossible to assess the real worth of a work that took the 19th-century stage by storm. The moonlit cloisters and nuns rising from their graves caught the imagination and within four years of its Paris opening Robert had been seen at 77 houses in ten different countries.
The Adonis recording is better cast, with Samuel Ramey a saturnine presence as Bertram (shades of Caspar in Der Freischütz) and June Anderson tackling her Act IV cavatina in magnificent style (wild applause halts the proceedings for a full two minutes). Alain Vanzo’s Robert is virile, but none too subtle and the orchestral playing and conducting (Thomas Fulton) are execrable. The performance, recorded live at the Paris Opéra in 1985, is savagely cut (often within numbers), repeatedly rendered inaudible by stage noise and the recording marred by frequent distortion.
The Dynamic recording is also a live performance (Festival della Valle d’Itria), also heavily cut and features similarly shambolic chorus and orchestral work. It is more sensitively conducted, by Renato Palumbo, but Giorgio Surian’s Bertram is no match for Ramey, and Warren Mok’s Robert is second-rate.
The third recording, not considered here, is a performance in Italian on Myto. Hear the Adonis set for Anderson’s show-stopping cavatina and at least a sense of that gothic supernaturalism that once enthralled Europe. But the wait isn’t over yet. Barry Millington