• A Walk with Loge's hidden gems: Robert le Diable

    ROBERT LE DIABLE
    by
    Giacomo Meyerbeer


    Meyerbeer was the king of French opera during several decades back in the 19th century. Robert le Diable is considered by many the first Grand Opéra, the one that really put this genre on their legs.

    In fourteen stages we will covering together:

    1.- A Belcanto great, and the inventor of Grand Opéra. This Meyerbeer was for real.
    2.- Myth and historical truth about Robert, le Diable. (the real person).
    3.- The libretto
    4.- The plot
    5.- What was so new about this opera, anyway?
    6.- Performers and discography
    7.- The ballet.
    8.- Mario's aria
    9.- “Robert” pay a visit
    A Belcanto great, and the inventor of Grand Opéra. This Meyerbeer was for real.

    By 1831, when he wrote Robert le Diable, Meyerbeer was already the happy author of a dozen operas. Born in Germany, he was living in Italy since 1815 (when he was just twenty-four). He had changed his original name of Jakob Liebmann Beer Wulf, by Giacomo Meyerbeer, and he was writing operas in the Rossinian style.



    Meyerbeer's apotheosis: The composer and his characters

    In 1824 Meyerbeer wrote “Il crociatto in Egitto”, his best Belcanto opera, and a really good effort. He was well considered in Italy, and even being somewhat maligned by Rossini himself, that was not Meyerbeer's friend.

    However, he decided to left all his success in Italy behind him, and go to Paris. Under the influence of “Der Freischütz” he wanted to write an opera with the Devil as the protagonist. He was working on a comedy for the Feydeau Theater, in three acts, but after the success of Auber's “La muette de Portici” he changed to five acts, and gave more relevance to the chorus numbers. Some of those elements were already present in “Il Crociato”, but under the influence of the Paris Opera's director, Louis Veron, Meyerbeer was fully convinced those structural changes were necessary for the future.

    Robert le Diable was staged for the first time on November, 21st, 1831 at Paris Opéra:



    The premiere

    The performes at the premiere were Adolphe Nourrit (Robert ), Laure Cinti-Damoreau (Isabelle), Nicolas Prosper Levasseur (Bertram) and Julie Dorus-Gras (Alice)

    It was a huge success and the precursor of French Romantic opera. It was also the first of many such successes for Meyerbeer. In 1834 there were already one hundred performances given at Paris, and soon the opera was staged all across Europe, in the US and even in faraway places like Calcutta (1836), Jakarta (1850) and Manila (1874). It was also translated to English, German and Italian.

    The famous painter Edgar Degas, requeste by the singer Elie Faure, painted a couple of paintings based on Meyerbeer's opera, like this one with the moment of the nuns's dance under the moonlight, after being resurrected by Bertram, at Santa Rosalia's cloister.



    A few years later, Meyerbeer retouched the original score, including at the beginning of the Second Act the number “Où me cacher?... Oh! ma mère, ombre si tendre...Ciel, qu’entends-je?", as a vehicle for the famous tenor Mario.




    Franz Liszt - Réminescences de Robert le Diable:

    This article was originally published in forum thread: A Walk with Loge's hidden gems: Robert le Diable started by Schigolch View original post
    Comments 33 Comments
    1. Nervous Gentleman's Avatar
      Nervous Gentleman -
      Thank you for this post. I have been spending a lot of time recently listening to (as well as viewing) this opera. Koichi Hasida of Japan has created English subtitles (and did a great job) for a public domain video of the 1985 production, available here: http://www.katch.ne.jp/~hasida/opera/opera_sub.htm
      This is an outstanding production with some absolutely stellar performances. There are, however, some rather extensive cuts; for example, there are sporadic cuts all throughout Act I, which is evident upon examination of one of the vocal scores posted at IMSL. The production from 2000 (of which there is a bootleg floating about on the net) is more complete and includes most of the parts cut from the 1985 production; but it has its own cuts, most of which are mercifully included in the 1985 version. So both versions have their merits. I am unaware of a single thoroughly complete version, which is frustrating.
      The story is very much in the Gothic mode a la "Ferdinand Count Fathom," et al. The titular character is said to be the spawn of a demon, chaste damsels are in imminent threat of being ravished by marauding soldiers, supernatural doings in antique piles and cavernous sanctuaries, etc. The 1985 production visualizes all of this in a very impressive and atmospheric fashion.
      An enjoyable, tuneful and thrilling opera that I am still discovering.
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      Yes, this is really a thrilling opera. In December, there will be some performances in London, conducted by Daniel Oren.
    1. HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
      HarpsichordConcerto -
      Meyerbeer was apparently quite successful as a composer. Unfortunately not many of his operas are recorded/performed/known today. And it appears he wrote about twenty operas, if I am not mistaken? I have his Il crociato in Egitto, which I thought was alright.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Quote Originally Posted by HarpsichordConcerto View Post
      Meyerbeer was apparently quite successful as a composer. Unfortunately not many of his operas are recorded/performed/known today. And it appears he wrote about twenty operas, if I am not mistaken? I have his Il crociato in Egitto, which I thought was alright.
      Well, that's not entirely true, he has certainly enjoyed some revival and there are several of his 19 operas (or 17 depending on how you count since one was remade into L'Etoile du Nord and another one was left unfinished) represented on commercial DVD and CD. Il Crociato in Egitto like you said, but also Les Huguenots, L'Africaine, Le Phophète, Dinorah, L'Etoile du Nord, and the one in discussion, Robert le Diable - and a couple more in Opera Rara recordings. So, half his production being available is not bad, as these things go. Some of the early and obscure ones are not likely to be that good anyway. Although it's not his most considered one (that would be Les Huguenots) I particularly like Dinorah.
    1. HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
      HarpsichordConcerto -
      Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
      Well, that's not entirely true, he has certainly enjoyed some revival and there are several of his 19 operas represented on DVD and CD. Il Crociato in Egitto like you said, but also Les Huguenots, L'Africaine, Le Phophète, Dinorah, L'Etoile du Nord, and the one in discussion, Robert le Diable. Although it's not his most considered one (that would be Les Huguenots) I particularly like Dinorah.
      I also have Les Huguenots on DVD (Joan Sutherland), part of my uwatched pile. Not many others make it to DVD/Blu-ray though but CD, different matter. A composer I would like to explore more of.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
      Yes, this is really a thrilling opera. In December, there will be some performances in London, conducted by Daniel Oren.
      Yep, with "our" Bryan Hymel in the title role.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Quote Originally Posted by HarpsichordConcerto View Post
      I also have Les Huguenots on DVD (Joan Sutherland), part of my uwatched pile. Not many others make it to DVD/Blu-ray though but CD, different matter. A composer I would like to explore more of.
      L'Africaine and Dinorah are also on DVD. So, four of his are on DVD, and Les Huguenots in more than one version. I suspect that Robert le Diable will find its way to commercial DVD soon (it already exists in bootleg version), given Covent Garden's interest in it. As these things go, this is not so bad for a composer.
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      2. 2.- Myth and historical truth about Robert, le Diable. (the real person).

      Robert le Diable was a real man.

      He was none other than Robert the First, duke of Normandy (1004 - 1035). He was the son of Richard I, the Fearless, and he was named Duke after the death of his elder brother Richard. He was suspected of foul play in that death. However, Robert was also called the Magnificent, and his own subjects gave him the surname of "Diable" for his courage fighting in France and Flanders. He went in pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1304, while his son, William the Conqueror, governed in his place. Coming back to Normandy, he fell ill, and died at Nicaea.




      Robert le Diable's statue


      After his death, a legend grows of supernatural powers and curses. According to that legend, Robert was the son of the Demon, called up by her own mother. His birth let loose hurricanes, thunders and a terrible fire that devastated several villages. The child was marked from the beginning, and will commit horrific crimes. However, after learning the secret of his parenthood, he goes to Rome, confess to the Pope, and live a life of fasting and penance. He saves the city from falling to the Saracens, and dies as a hermit. In another version, however, he married the daughter of the Emperor, that has fallen in love with him, and ascend the imperial throne.

      The oldest source is the tale, in Latin, of the Dominican friar Etienne de Bourbon, circa 1250. Then we find Robert in a French ballad of the 13th century and a Mystery play of the 14th, as well as in the preface to the "Chronicles of Normandy", written in French.

      But the more popular sources are from the 15th century, published under the title of “La vie du terrible Robert le dyable”, and later merged with other legend, that of Richard Sans Peur, and finally fused together in a book written in 1769: “Historiy of Robert le Diable, duke of Normandy, and Richard the Fearless, his son". The legend circulated not only in France, but also in Spain, England, the Low Countries and Germany.


      Gertrude Grob-Prandl singing "Robert le Diable" in German:

    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      3. The Libretto

      Using the different sources mentioned in the post above, Jean Nicolas Bouilly (incidentally, the writer behind the libretto of "Fidelio") and Téophile Dumersan wrote a play that was staged in 1813 under the title of "Robert le Diable". This piece would be the reference for Scribe and Delavigne to prepare the libretto for Meyerbeer's opera.

      It's a long poem, with consonance rhyme, and different combinations. Let's find some example:

      A quatrain, rhyming ABAB:


      “Jadis régnait en Normandie
      un prince noble et valereux.
      Sa fille, Berthe, la jolie,
      dédaignait tous les amoureux.”
      (Rimbaut's ballade)


      Another one in ABBA:

      “Va, dit-elle, va, mon enfant,
      dire au fils qui m’a délaissée
      qu’il eut la dernière pensée
      d’un amour qui s’éteint en l’aimant!”
      (Alice's romance)


      Sometimes there are just two verses:

      Mes armes, mes coursiers n m’appartiennent plus!
      Va les livrer les biens que j’ai perdus.
      (Robert)


      And free combinations:

      ”Malheur sans égal!
      D’un sort infernal
      l’ascendant fatal
      me poursuit, m’opprime.
      Craignez mon courroux!
      Je puis sur vous tous
      me venger des coups
      dont je suis victime.”
      (Robert)

      There are also several metres, as we can see just reading those same examples. But consonance rhyme is used for the whole libretto.


      Lilli Lehmann singing, in German, "Robert, Robert mein Geliebter":

    1. Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
      Ann Lander (sospiro) -
      Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
      Yep, with "our" Bryan Hymel in the title role.


      And the beautiful Jennifer Rowley as Isabelle.
    1. Nervous Gentleman's Avatar
      Nervous Gentleman -
      Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
      3. The Libretto

      Using the different sources mentioned in the post above, Jean Nicolas Bouilly (incidentally, the writer behind the libretto of "Fidelio") and Téophile Dumersan wrote a play that was staged in 1813 under the title of "Robert le Diable". This piece would be the reference for Scribe and Delavigne to prepare the libretto for Meyerbeer's opera.
      Thanks for mentioning this. I wrote to Alma recently about my interest in literary and historical sources for many operas, but I didn't think to look into the sources for "Robert le Diable."

      I found a scan of the play at Google Books:

      http://books.google.ca/books?id=H9Pk...ble%22&f=false

      Now, despite my being born in Ontario not far from the Quebec border, I never learned French. Still, there's Google translate...
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      Well, in fact it's member Loge who is providing all those facts and opinions. I'm merely translating his posts in the Spanish Forum.
    1. Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
      Ann Lander (sospiro) -
      Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
      Well, in fact it's member Loge who is providing all those facts and opinions. I'm merely translating his posts in the Spanish Forum.
      And I'm very grateful, thank you.
    1. Nervous Gentleman's Avatar
      Nervous Gentleman -
      Quote Originally Posted by sospiro View Post
      And I'm very grateful, thank you.
      Yes, of course. I am, as well. Thank you!

      I made certain to thank Loge, too, in the Spanish section. I should have done so earlier.
    1. Loge's Avatar
      Loge -
      You're welcome. My poor English obstructs to me to publish articles so long in the English Area. So, my friend Schigolch offered to translate them. A very hard work, for what I'm very grateful to him, too. And I'm very pleased you like this articles.
    1. Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
      Ann Lander (sospiro) -
      Quote Originally Posted by Loge View Post
      You're welcome. My poor English obstructs to me to publish articles so long in the English Area. So, my friend Schigolch offered to translate them. A very hard work, for what I'm very grateful to him, too. And I'm very pleased you like this articles.
      I am going to see Robert le diable at Royal Opera House in December and I'm very grateful for all this information.

      Thank you.
    1. Nervous Gentleman's Avatar
      Nervous Gentleman -
      Quote Originally Posted by Loge View Post
      You're welcome. My poor English obstructs to me to publish articles so long in the English Area. So, my friend Schigolch offered to translate them. A very hard work, for what I'm very grateful to him, too. And I'm very pleased you like this articles.

      Well, your "poor English" is certainly a thousand times better than my Spanish, which is non-existent! Thanks very much for your very informative articles, as I have a great interest in the historical and literary basis of individual operas.

      And thank you to Schigolch for the translations!


    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      Just to mention there are two other installments of this series already completed: Mireille and La Juive.

      http://operalively.com/forums/showth...-gems-Mireille

      http://operalively.com/forums/showth...-gems-La-Juive
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      4. The plot (1)

      After eight centuries of distorting the true story at the hands of minstrels, playwrights, librettist,... the only point of contact of the plot with the historical Robert, is his name.



      The overture uses some rather gloomy, solemn chords to introduce the proper atmosphere for the rest of the opera:

      Overture

      First Act


      In a beach near Palermo, Robert and Bertram are watching other knights singing and laughing. All of them are there for a tournament that will take place the next day. An squire introduces a troubadour from Normandy, Raimbaut. Robert requests his countryman to sing something for them, and the guy starts reciting the ballad of Robert, le Diable. Born of an illegal carnal knowledge between Robert's mother and an envoy of the Devil, Robert terrorizes Normandy, raping women and children, and killing their husbands and fathers.

      Rimbaut's ballad

      Understandably, Robert is getting angry to hear his own heroic deeds related in the voice of the troubadour and order his men to kill the singer. Fortunately, Alice, Rimbaut's fiancée and Robert's foster sister, enters with some bad news and the murder is temporarily forgotten. The mother of Robert has died, and on her deathbed she has asked Alice to go to Robert, and save him from Evil.

      Alice's Romance


      Alice has also a letter from Robert's mother, that can't be delivered until the knight renounces Evil. Robert is not yet ready for that, and informs Alice he fell in love with Isabella, Princess of Sicily, and he tried to kidnap the girl with the help of his friend Bertram, but was prevented by the intervention of a group of Sicilian knights. Alice convinces Robert to write a letter to Isabella, that she will deliver herself, to ask for Isabella's pardon and then check if Robert's tender feelings towards her are reciprocated. In exchange, she obtains Robert's permission to marry Rimbaut the next day, at St Irene. Then, Bertram enters the scene and Alice is flabbergasted by his uncanny resemblance to the portrait of the Devil in her home town.

      Robert, torn between Good and Evil, is perfectly aware of Bertram's bad influence over him. He accuses the knight of giving him bad advice, and Bertram mockingly challenges him to play dice with the rest of the group. Then Robert proceeds to lose all his money, his dinner service, his horse and even his armor.
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
      4. The plot (2)


      Isabelle's palace lounge. The Princess is lamenting the decision her father, the King, has taken: the winner of the tournament will be awarded Isabelle's hand in marriage. She is in love with Robert, despite his failed kidnapping. The entrance of Alice with Robert's letter is very welcomed. Isabelle is delighted: Robert is in Parlemo, and he loves her!.

      This is Joan Sutherland singing the above scene:



      On the footsteps of Alice, arrives Robert that is forgiven by the yearning Isabelle. As he can't participate in the tournament without an armor, the Princess gives a new one to him:

      June Anderson and Rockwell Blake, Paris 1985


      Same scene, with Alain Vanzo replacing Rockwell Blake:



      Bertram is not happy with the news. He doesn't want Robert to participate in the tournament, having other plans for the knight's immortal soul. As the rival for Isabelle's hand is the Prince of Granada, he pays an squire to trick Robert into believing the Prince challenges him to a duel, outside of the tournament, in the forest.

      In the tournament, six couples engaged to marry the next day are dancing. The Prince of Granada appears while Isabelle and Alice are waiting for Robert. They are for a long wait indeed. The Norman is in the forest, waiting himself for the Prince of Granada. According to Bertram's plan, Robert loses the tournament by his nonappearance, and the Prince of Granada is now the official fiancé of Isabelle.


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