- Robert le diable, grand opera in 5 acts
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Few operas were so immensely popular and held the stage for so long as Meyerbeer's ROBERT LE DIABLE did before falling into obscurity. Meyerbeer was a master of melody who favored opulent scenarios that exploited French grand opera's tendency toward the spectacular. In many respects he was the Andrew Lloyd Webber of the 19th century, and history has not been kind to him. The backlash began with Richard Wagner, who called ROBERT "a monstrous piebald, diabolico-religious, sacro-frivolous, fanatico-libidinous hotch-potch," among other ravings. Whatever just critiques one might raise with Meyerbeer's work, Wagner's condemnation is also based in equal parts of anti-Semitism, jealousy of Meyerbeer's success, and a desire to repress just how much he borrowed from Meyerbeer. No studio recording of ROBERT exists; luckily, this live 1985 recording from the Paris Opera is more than adequate. The orchestra and chorus, directed by Thomas Fulton, are excellent. Samuel Ramey, who has had special success with the devilish roles in the bass repertoire, is in his usual fine form here as Bertram, and June Anderson claims a thunderous ovation after Isabelle's cavatina "Robert, toi que j'aime," which was one of the 19th century's biggest hit tunes. In the demanding role of Robert, the knight who is ignorant of his demonic parentage, Alain Vanzo sings with both power and grace. There is a fair amount of stage noise, as you might expect in an opera that mobilizes such huge crowds, but the recorded sound is generally good, with only occasional moments of distortion. With minimal documentation and only a sketchy plot summary, this isn't an ideal package, but it's the best available opportunity to experience a work that every opera lover should hear.