Listen: An introduction to Robert le diable
A look at the origins of the opera and why it became an 1830s blockbuster.
Forgotten operatic gem Robert le diable will be staged for the first time at Covent Garden in 122 years this Season.
Although now a repertory rarity (over the past five years it was the 563rd most commonly staged work internationally according to Operabase), at the time of its premiere in Paris, Meyerbeer’s opera was a great success.
Dr Sarah Hibberd from the University of Nottingham recently introduced Robert le diable as part of an ROH Insights event, explaining the origins of the work and the genre of grand opera and why it was an 1830s blockbuster.
“Meyerbeer has an extraordinarily eclectic musical language,” Dr Hibberd told the audience, “Meyerbeer characterizes the two worlds of the demonic and the heavenly very carefully so the heavenly side associated with Alice is represented with celestial harps and high woodwind and contrastingly the world of Bertram is lots of low brass; trombones, ophicleides and bassoons as well – dark timbre instruments. You have these worlds juxtaposed.”
Speaking about Eugène Scribe’s dramatic and revolutionary libretto, which followed a style that the librettist had developed, Dr Hibberd said: “The characteristics of his librettos were that first of all you’d leap into the action mid-way through – there’s no long, dull first act. Scribe also tended to put cliffhangers at the end of each act; the audience was propelled through the drama.”
Listen to highlights from the event: