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VINE VOICEon 1 February 2013
This is a recording of a live concert performance that took place at the Teatro Verdi in Salerno, a city about 25 miles south of Naples, in March 2012. I was interested to hear this performance as it features two of the singers I saw in the same opera at the ROH in December 2012 - Bryan Hymel and Patrizia Ciofi. Operaphiles will know that the ROH production was plagued with casting problems with the ROH ditching the soprano they had lined up for the part of Isabelle and bringing in Ms Ciofi at the last minute. I was also interested to see how this Salerno performance compared to the live 1985 Paris performance featuring June Anderson, Samuel Ramey and Alain Vanzo which I had purchased as a primer prior to seeing the ROH production.

Ms. Ciofi, a well-known Gilda on the operatic stage, has a lighter, less lustrous voice than June Anderson, but she sings the part of Princess Isabelle quite beautifully; her account of Isabelle's great act 4 aria "Robert, toi que j'aime", a demanding piece, is fine-grained but totally assured. Alastair Miles is an excellent Bertram although Ramey in the Paris performance is darker and more devilish. But for me the star of the show is Carmen Giannattasio as Alice. Her rather lovely face happens to grace the cover of the February 2013 issue of Opera Now magazine with the description "A Bel Canto Beauty" and I can do no better than quote their article: "Her rich vocal timbre comes with daredevil agility. She can flip from vibrant , light coloratura to dark smouldering mezzo tones with an elegant, clean technique and powerfully intense phrasing." The one relative disappointment was the one I least expected - Bryan Hymel's Robert. At the ROH his tireless performance made a very favourable impression on me and I felt sure he would have the edge over the ageing Alain Vanzo. But on this recording his voice doesn't sound especially alluring with a tendency to sound constricted in the upper registers.

Given that Salerno's is a provincial opera house (albeit quite an impressive one, a slightly smaller version of the San Carlo up the road) I must say the orchestra and chorus acquit themselves admirably and Daniel Oren in the pit conducts a taut and exciting performance. The famous (or should that be infamous?) ballet of the ghostly nuns comes off splendidly. The recording is excellent without the stage noises you get with the Paris performance and with just the occasional muted cough from the audience and some faint clicks and creaks from the side of the performers. There is no libretto with this release but Brilliant have made it available on-line.

It should be noted that this performance - and I quote from the booklet - "has been trimmed of passages which are superfluous or lacking in dramatic relevance, so as to bring out all the elements of orchestral colour, the highly dramatic feel of the music, and the obvious loveliness of numerous passages in this opera."

Robert Le Diable is a splendid opera. Certainly in its gripping final act in which the forces of good and evil battle for possession of Robert's soul, Meyerbeer, both musically and dramatically, rises well above some of the lesser Bellini, Donizetti and early Verdi that opera houses are happy to throw at us, and I find the opera's current neglect (or perhaps "unfashionableness") quite puzzling. So it's good to have another recording that one can recommend. I picked up this set for less than a tenner including postage so I reckon it's a pretty good bargain. I wouldn't want to be without the Paris performance (despite the shortcomings of the recording) but if you're investigating this opera for the first time and want just the one set then I don't think you need look much further than this Brilliant release.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 11 March 2013
I have in the past on Amazon fallen foul of a tiny but dedicated and almost fanatical band of Meyerbeer enthusiasts who review only their Master's works and have even resorted to assuming alter-egos in order to post encomiums of their own books on him - and I fear history is about to repeat itself, as I try as I might - and I do indeed keep trying - I cannot hear anything other than a second-rate composer at work in the majority of Meyerbeer's operas. The best and last of them is "L'africaine" but apart from some justly celebrated and very singable arias beginning with "O, paradis!", "Ô, prêtres de Baal" and some showpieces from "Les Huguenots", I am pushed to find much beyond some very workmanlike and predictable music-making which has not worn well. The great "Gramophone" voice critic J.B. Steane was accused by one Meyerbeer admirer of having an animus against Meyerbeer. Nothing of the sort; he simply had good taste.

However, apart from those devotees, other respected reviewers on Amazon have praised this work so it clearly demands open-minded consideration. One is instantly excoriated for making "unfair and irrelevant" comparisons with other composers active from 1830 to 1860 but as far as I am concerned Donizetti, Verdi and Wagner were better opera composers and that's that. But let's consider this opera on its own merits and eschew otiose juxtapositions.

This is a live recording of a performance given at the Teatro Verdi, Salerno not even a year ago at the time of reviewing. It is very well played by a "provincial" orchestra which hardly sounds like it, with a decidedly better than provincial cast, including both rising and established international artists such as Carmen Giannattasio - arguably the star of the show - American tenor Bryan Hymel who sang the role of Robert recently at Covent Garden (in a production which, to put it kindly, was not critically well received), Italian lyric-coloratura soprano Patrizia Ciofi and British bass Alastair Miles.

There is some good singing here amongst some less impressive. I have already mentioned Giannattasio's vibrant, mezzo-ish voice. Ciofi often sounds strangely hoarse and worn although her flexibility is still apparent. Hymel has a neat tenor with a good top C and the suggestion of a Top D but he has some glottal mannerisms and the voice is quite small. Miles is imposing but the dreaded wobble is beginning to obtrude in his bass. There seems hardly to be a singer these days immune to this affliction.

It all rumbles along nicely but virtually nothing interesting happens musically speaking and most of the time I am very conscious of listening to a composer who regards opera as an excuse for his singers to deliver their "numbers" to be admired by an audience of canary-fanciers. As in "Le prophète", the action is dramatically inert and I defy anyone to whistle me a truly memorable melody - so much is very humdrum stuff. One CD in and I was bored by the stock gestures and formulaic exchanges. To take but one example, the opening of Act 3 with its insipid duet for Bertram and Raimbaut is the epitome of banality - and poorly sung to boot, hence the lack of applause.

There is a slight, muffling veil over the proceedings but by and large the sound is very good: clean, balanced and largely free of audience noise. Applause in general sounds muted to me, indicative of polite approval.

My apologies to reviewers who find delight in this music; that baffles me. This is my last attempt to review a Meyerbeer opera and I shall not return to his music; it's not worth the investment - as the Royal Opera recently re-discovered to its cost - nor is it worth the grief I'll get from the Band of Brothers. Meyerbeer's operas have fallen into desuetude for a reason and you can hear it for yourself; our ears have been spoiled even by raw and comparatively unsophisticated early Verdi which has more melodic invention and psychological insight in one scene than you will find in this entire opera.
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on 31 January 2013
2012 was an incredible year for `Robert le Diable', with productions in Erfurt, Monte Carlo, Sofia, Salerno, London and Geneva. The concert performance in Salerno was recorded by the Brilliant Label, and comes as a special memento of this period of remarkable rediscovery for Meyerbeer's legendary opera (in both senses of that word). Congratulations go especially to Daniel Oren for his enterprise and faith in the score. In any case, the score is so very beautiful.
The outpouring of loathing and contempt on the part of many critics that greeted the Covent Garden revival was a bizarre spectacle, and quite incomprehensible. One wonders if we live in the same world, and are hearing the same sounds? It is almost as if some of these people were fighting a moral cause, and the outbursts are themselves almost a sociological phenomenon! It is interesting that there is no other composer who is capable of eliciting such strength of feeling. There is no other major figure in opera whose musical worth is questioned all the time, or whose achievements are constantly and inappropriately forced into comparison with Wagner and Verdi. It is astonishing actually, and says something about the innate nature of the music, and its ability to challenge and to unsettle. Some accuse Meyerbeer of being hackneyed and trivial, and are then puzzled when the music is sufficiently unusual and original to foil expectation. So he is next blamed for not being conventional enough in, say, his melodic inspiration, or handling of form. If you want more traditional ideas, look to the Italian operas. In his French operas Meyerbeer was, like Berlioz, using conventional means to create something new and unusual, something highly dramatic, full of new orchestral colours and a striking melodic fluency.
In this recording the score is contained on three CDs--which means that the opera is cut. The big Chorus of the Spell and the finale in act 4 are the main victims here. People listening to recordings of the opera must not imagine that they can draw many conclusions about the composer's structural powers, since few pieces are given fully as written. The main query in this instance is the omission of two numbers of the Ballet of the Nuns, a famous piece for which Meyerbeer provided astonishing music to convey an otherworldly atmosphere--attractive but strange, fluid but almost mechanical (like the necromantic spirits the nuns really are). The Nuns and their music must be seductively beautiful but also alien and menacing, of true darkly Romantic 'Nacht und Träume' (night and dreams). When listened to as a recital, without say reference to the score, the recording nonetheless comes across as an effective musical unity. The conductor does, however, take one or two pieces far too fast (the Bacchanale in act 3 and act 4 finale are rushed off their feet), and does not give the music time to breathe freely. Wonderful details of harmony and orchestration are lost. Otherwise the very big resources are directed well, and the vivid orchestral colours and lovely melodies are brought to the fore. The digital recording helps with this--even if it conversely allows audience noise from the live recording to intrude occasionally.
Bryan Hymel sounds young and fresh in the hugely demanding title role, his tone even throughout the extreme tessitura, boldly tackling the very high notes, and conveying the impulsive but confused young hero with some charm. His sinister mentor Bertram is tackled by Alastair Miles who has the requisite darkness and depth of vocal hue, but has developed a marked vibrato that is badly exposed on occasion. The two heroines are sung with steady dedication: Patrizia Ciofi has become something of a specialist in the role of Princess Isabelle, and sings it again with warmth and engagement. Her control of the coloratura and drama is sure, and she perfectly understands the heady mixture. The more lyrical role of Alice, undertaken by Carmen Giannattasio, is presented with charm in act 1, suitable trepidation and anguish in act 3, and with the requisite power and floating vocalism when needed in act 5. Martial Defontaine captures the diffident opportunism of the minstrel Raimbaut with Gallic finesse.
The chorus and orchestra of the Teatro Verdi in Salerno also perform with precision and dash. The opera contains a wealth of lovely choral writing: the corporate Gambling of the Knights in act 1, the invigorating, endearing Chorus of the Tournament in act 2, the charming Bridal Chorus in act 4, and the monumental Chorus of Monks in act 5. All of these are realized with panache, the monks with vivid and portentous solemnity.
The adagio of the ballet in act 3, the deeply affecting Aria of Grace in act 4, and the decisive climactic act 5 trio are among the most beautiful and riveting inspirations in all operatic literature, and are performed with real passion. Taken as a whole, this bargain set is a wonderful operatic experience, not to be missed. It is a worthy tribute to its fascinating and misunderstood composer.
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on 11 March 2013
Like many others I heard this work for the first time at the ROH in December, although seeing the rather silly production from a cramped seat in the Amphitheatre didn't add much to the enjoyment of hearing it on Radio 3 a week earlier (with the usual excellent commentary). Looking around for a recording I soon discovered that there wasn't a lot of choice, and plumped for this recent CD issue of a live concert performance with the same conductor.

I loved the work at first hearing and this bargain-price CD is excellent. The only minor quibbles have already been noted by other reviewers, eg. the audience coughing is a bit distracting in the quiet ballet sections in Act 3. You can get the libretto (in French only) from Brilliant's website but be aware that this is a general text available from other sources, not exactly what is being sung. Mostly you have to jump ahead around the passages which have been cut but there are also some additions, eg. a chorus and aria for Isabelle at the beginning of Act 4. On the other hand, having the full libretto helps because it fills in some plot gaps. The synopsis helps but isn't perfect, eg. it implies that Bertram beats Robert at dice in Act 1 whereas of course he goads Robert into gambling with the knights. Mind you, I don't suppose that too many listeners will be bothered about gaps in a typically absurd plot - Meyerbeer's music is glorious and I hope this opera gets some more productions and recordings.
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on 5 February 2013
This bargain issue gives a fair impression of much of this inventive work. The orchestration is so imaginative and for the most part the Italian orchestra do the composer justice. Tempos at times lack energy rather than speed - the recent production at Erfurt was much more successful here. Most of the cast acquit their tasks with aplomb, especially the smaller roles, whose music is just as difficult(and rewarding to sing) as the larger ones. HOWEVER, the big disappointment, as at the Royal Opera House, is Bryan Hymel, whose constricted upper register is often painful to listen to. He sounds like a baritone trying to sing tenor! The tenor at Erfurt was far more successful!
However, if you don't know the work, and it is SUPERB - so ahead of its time and so full of melody - BUY IT at Brilliant Classics' ridiculously low price. You will not regret it!
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on 2 August 2013
Well here we go again.....Meyerbeer, hated, Robert le Diable, must be cut for modern audiences, etc, etc.
The truth is some of us love this music and would love to hear THE FULL SCORE!
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on 19 February 2013
An exciting reading of an surprisingly tuneful opera. Good peformances & sound for a live recording. Only one of the tenors disappoints (awful!). Fabulous value recording!
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on 31 October 2015
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on 15 March 2013
I listened to "Robert" a couple of times with my headset on and had to disagree with one of the previous reviewers.
I found it extremely and intrusively noisy on the part of the audience and the conductor is making his presence quite clear with a lot of heavy breathing which is very disturbing and distracting to my ears....However when I listened without headset, i found the sound and balnce quite good and did not notice the above very much. The performance is very spirited and energetic, but I need to listen a few more times as I am not sure how engaging the music is per se.
Frits Bossen

I have now had a chance to listen some more to "Robert"....my opinion still stands: there seems to be a society of Meyerbeer friends out there .Although my daughter shares genes with him, I am not sure if I am such a fan of his music although his opera L'etoile du Nord" is quite enticing. ( have a listen on the Marco Polo cd of this opera, also a live recording but without much stage noise. Again I repeat: "Robert"is quite enjoyable but without head phones applied. I will upgrade with one star.
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on 2 April 2013
I had never heard of this opera before seeing it advertised and thought to try listening to it .However ,I must admit that probably ,had I seen the opera first instead of just listening ,I would have made more of the plot .somewhat confusing unless the story is known .
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