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Royal Opera House London

December 7, 2012 by  

Royal Opera House London, Every show has a back-story, but this is more convoluted than most. With its Gothic effects – including a saucy ballet for ghostly nuns – and with its massive orchestral, vocal, and choreographic forces, Meyerbeer’s ‘Robert le diable’ quickly became the most popular opera in Europe after its 1831 premiere, yet this is its first London production since 1890.

Its casting has been a chapter of accidents: it was conceived as a vehicle for Juan Diego Florez, but the title role is now sung by Bryan Hymel; the part of Isabelle, Robert’s betrothed, was first allocated to Diana Damrau, whose pregnancy caused it to pass to Jennifer Rowley, who three days before curtain-up was deemed vocally unsuited and was replaced by Patrizia Ciofi.

Set in 13th-century Palermo, the story has echoes of ‘Faust’: Duke Robert has been sired by the devil, who returns to try and claim his soul, and prevent him from winning Princess Isabelle in a tournament. The drama turns not so much on the hero’s choosing between good and evil, as on his inability to make such a choice, and while this may not reflect heroism, it doesn’t justify the liberties director Laurent Pelly has taken.

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