Robert le diable - Royal Opera House, 6 December 2012
If this staging has one positive result, it will be to silence once and for all any pleas for more Meyerbeer at the Royal Opera House. The best efforts of all involved do little to disguise a limp plot, flimsy characterisation, vapid melodies and rote composition. Presumably the Parisians who hailed its 1831 debut were taken in by the superficially pretty orchestration and some spectacular vocal gymnastics. It's hard to imagine anyone staying awake otherwise.
Laurent Pelly's production echoes the crudeness of the music and the stupidity of the story with bold primary colours and camply choreographed routines. If he sometimes seems unsure whether to make us laugh or cry, all I can say is I understand.
After all the comings and goings and cancellations, it's hard to imagine a cast better than the one finally assembled. Patrizia Ciofi was the heroine of the hour, skipping through her flashy coloratura and finally delivering the opera's one truly moving moment, Isabelle's fourth act aria. Marina Poplavskaya and John Relyea sang their best-ever Covent Garden performances as the forces of good (her) and evil (him). Bryan Hymel's painfully-extruded tone wins no points for vocal glamour, but he lasted the course and hit all the notes, which in a role as difficult as Robert is perhaps all you can expect. The sweet and easy high tenor of Jean-François Borras, in a small but notable ROH debut as Raimbaut, only gained by comparison.
One big letdown was the ballet of the dead nuns, raised from their graves by the devil himself to tempt Robert. I'd been hoping for some hardcore zombie action; instead we got ballerinas twitching gracefully in filmy gowns. Conceivably not a million miles from the version that thrilled the 1831 audience, it was timid in comparison to the orgies that the like of David McVicar have led even the most conservative audiences to expect.
Everyone should see this once to understand what they're not missing, but please, ROH, no more Meyerbeer.
Production photos here.
Thank you Kyoko for this curtain call video: