OP0071. ROBERT LE DIABLE (in Italian), Live Performance, 2000, Valle d'Itria Festival, Palazzo Ducale, Martina Franca, w.Palumbo Cond. Bratislava Ensemble; Warren Mok, Patrizia Ciofi, Giorgio Surian, Annalisa Raspagliosi, etc. (Italy) 3-Dynamic 368, Slipcase Edition, w.72pp. Libretto-Brochure in French & English, w.Photos. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 8007144603687
hMeyerbeerfs ROBERT LE DIABLE (1831) represents a turning point not only in the history of French opera, but of 19th century Grand Opera in general. Meyerbeer succeeded in combining the elements of the Italian, French, and German styles to create a new type of musical drama that would set an example for composers to follow, including Massenet and Gounod, and even the likes of Verdi and Wagner. ROBERT LE DIABLE was enormously successful, being performed 100 times during the next three years (and more than 600 by 1868), and launched Meyerbeer on a fantastically brilliant career with even greater works, such as LES HUGUENOTS and LfAFRICAINE, still to come.
Despite the title, itfs not Robert, Duke of Normandy, whofs the devil, but actually his father, Bertram (though Robert is unaware of this fact). Bertram has a limited time in which to win his sonfs soul, something he sets out to accomplish by (what else?) trickery and deception. First, Bertram causes Robert to lose all his money and weapons at cards (despite warnings from his foster-sister, Alice). Then he charms Robert into attempting to rape his beloved, Isabelle, thereby blowing any chance he had at marrying her. Isabellefs desperate pleading breaks Bertramfs spell at the last instant, whereupon Robert is arrested. The last act finds Robert about to swear an oath of allegiance to Bertram when Alice shows up announcing that Isabelle has forgiven him. This moves Bertram to reveal his true, terrifying self in a last attempt; but his time has run out and he must return to hell, leaving Robert free at last to wed Isabelle.
Musically, the opera is very much of its period, with Bellini being the most recognizable influence. The role of Robert makes considerable demands on the tenor voice - its tessitura lies quite high and includes a few high Cs. Warren Mok tackles it bravely, but not without difficulty as his voice tends to become thin and takes on a bleating quality in the upper range. It may be the way the character is written, but Giorgio Surianfs Bertram doesnft come across as the craftily seducing devil we know from Gounodfs FAUST (nor is he helped by the baritonefs slight wobble on an otherwise well-focused tone). Patrizia Ciofifs powerful, supple soprano wonderfully conveys Isabellefs regal yet vulnerable character. The virtuous Alice is brought to life by the rich, warm tones (consistent throughout her range) of Annalisa Raspagliosi. The cast receives full-throated and enthusiastic support from the Bratislava Chamber Choir.
Conductor Renato Palumbo and the Orchestra Internazionale DfItalia bring a lively sweep to Meyerbeerfs sparkling score, especially in its many dance-tempo numbers. The recording was made live at the Festival della Valle dfItria di Martina Franca, and suffers from exceedingly obtrusive stage noises. The first act, where the chorus does a fair amount of dancing and stomping around (reproduced with frightening fidelity in your listening room, is particularly annoying. But true Meyerbeer fans wonft be dissuaded by such distractions, and opera lovers in general will consider this release, reintroducing this important and entertaining work to the international catalog, to be a real efindf.h
- Victor Carr Jr, ClassicsToday.com