ROBERT LE DIABLE
Opéra en 5 actes
Composer : Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864)
Libretto : Eugène Scribe & Casimir Delavigne
First performance : Paris Opéra, 21 November 1831
SETTING : Palermo (Sicily), 13th century
PLOT : Robert, duke of Normandy, is the son of a devil. Robert’s crimes so excited his vassals that they chased him out of the country. He has taken refuge in Sicily, where he has become engaged to the princess Isabelle. But his arrogance so infuriated the other knights that they were about to kill him when Bertram, a mysterious knight, rescued him. Robert and Bertram have sworn steadfast friendship. However, Bertram is really his father, and wants to damn his son. Following his perfidious advice, Robert gambles and loses his riches, horses and weapons on the eve of the tournament in which he must fight for Isabelle’s hand. The prince of Grenada triumphs in his place and will marry Isabelle. Bertram suggests that Robert use a talisman, a magic branch, to recover all he has lost. This branch must be plucked from the former monastery founded by St Rosalie. There, in the middle of the ruins, ghosts of sacrilegious nuns gather each night for unholy bacchanals. Robert gets the branch, and uses it to overcome Isabelle and her court. Isabelle, however, begs for mercy. Her tears move Robert, who returns to his natural generosity. He breaks the branch, but becomes weak and disarmed. He flees to the cathedral of Palermo. There, Bertram reveals the mystery of his birth and tries to persuade Robert to deliver himself. Alice, Robert’s foster-sister, shows Robert his mother’s testament. Robert cannot make up his mind. At last, the earth opens beneath Bertram’s feet, and Robert, freed from his father’s evil influence, marries the princess.
‘Robert le Diable’ was the first of Meyerbeer’s Parisian operas, and hugely influential. Chopin proclaimed: ‘It is a masterpiece. Meyerbeer has made himself immortal.’ Berlioz admired the instrumentation; in an article ‘On the Orchestration of Robert le Diable’ for the Revue et gazette musicale, he wrote that the opera ‘provides the most astonishing example of the power of instrumentation when applied to dramatic music’. Liszt and Chopin wrote variations based on the opera, while Wagner’s ‘Tannhäuser’ (1845) owes much to ‘Robert’.
Despite its fame, it is more old-fashioned and less sophisticated than ‘Les Huguenots’ (1836) [
No. 15 – Final:
A. Scène et Evocation: ‘Voici donc les débris du monastère antique’
The devil Bertram summons the dead nuns from their unhallowed graves.
Bertram, ami du Robert / Robert’s friend (bass): Pol Plançon
Camden, New Jersey, August 1908; VICTOR (C-6110-1) 85125
From ‘Meyerbeer on Record: 1899-1913’ (Marston Records)