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Royal Opera - Robert le diable

Paul Arrowsmith

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The scholarly articles in the programme for The Royal Opera’s revival of Robert le diable make a persuasive case for Meyerbeer – far more so than the cartoon of a production by Laurent Pelly.


Faust and Hoffmann kept springing to mind when watching this Robert – but a hero’s search for his self goes for nothing with Pelly. Choruses of chainmailed soldiers, wimpled women and day-glo plastic horses are pure Spamalot. Meyerbeer the meanderer fatally never gets to the point – but he is a better composer than Pelly credits. The scenery wobbled as Isabelle lent on the toy town castle – indication enough of a lack of dramatic weight.


Famous by repute and the Degas painting, the ballet of the nuns provided a rare moment of conviction. Gilbert and Sullivan clearly knew the scene – the nuns rise from their tombs to a melody we now recognise from Ruddigore as the portraits step from their frames. With their cropped heads and hanging shifts these nuns echo the ghostly women in MacMillan’s Gloria. Their abandon is Duncanesque with the odd spasm of McGregor.


The Royal Opera went the long way round to secure Patrizia Ciofi as Isabelle – three cheers that they did, she illuminated the stage. Not quite on her level but very impressive were a saturnine John Relyea oozing malevolence as Bertram and the ringing Jean-François Borras as Rambaut. Apart from some yelped high notes Bryan Hymel was an ardent Robert, far more heroic than in Les troyens last summer. Orchestra and augmented chorus were hugely alert.


An operatic curiosity – but curiosity not satisfied by the staging that short changes Meyerbeer.

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I thought the ballet of the nuns was a tabloid style, pathetic travesty and went on far too long. I couldn't even just enjoy the music by shutting my eyes, as the loud huffing and puffing interfered with it. I think the Royal Opera needs to review its approach to ballet/dance in opera. I've no objection to it moving with the times - don't have to stick with the Taglioni style - but it's the kind of moving that needs consideration.

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