Devilish Extravagance: Meyerbeer's 'Robert le Diable'

WOO-1320-robert-le-diable-300x300-9For creative artists, there's no single path to recognition. Some achieve it, if at all, only after years of modest triumphs. In contrast, others manage something most can only dream of: a single effort so remarkable that it sets an entire career in motion.

In the world of film, for example, Steven Spielberg was anything but a household name until he made Jaws, which launched one of the most storied careers in Hollywood history, seemingly overnight.

Novelist John Grisham struggled to get anything published until he came up with The Firm, and from that point on it seems everything he wrote was bound for the bestseller lists.

There are similar examples when it comes to opera. The most famous might be Giuseppe Verdi, who was on the verge of giving up on opera when he composed Nabucco -- and then he never looked back, becoming one of the most successful musicians of all time.

Then there was Giacomo Meyerbeer. He may not have reached Verdian levels of enduring fame, but he did produce a single, spectacular opera that quickly spread his name all over Europe.

Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable -- Robert the Devil -- began life as a relatively modest drama, mixing music with spoken dialogue, and intended for the Opéra Comique, in Paris. Meyerbeer eventually soured on that idea, and when he saw the success of Rossini's grand opera William Tell, he decided to take his project in a different direction, and to a different company. He turned the score into a spectacular five-act drama that was so successful at its Paris Opéra premiere that Meyerbeer almost instantly became Europe's most famous composer. That first production ran for 100 shows, and within five years the opera had been staged in ten countries, and in more than 75 theaters.

Meyerbeer went on to specialize in brilliant, five-act operas, each seemingly more extravagant than the next. By now, his finest works -- which also include Les Huguenots, Le prophète and <em>L'africaine -- are often cited as the epitome of French grand opera.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone brings us Meyerbeer's career-maker, Robert le Diable, in an acclaimed production from London's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The stars are tenor Bryan Hymel as Robert, soprano Patrizia Ciofi as Isabelle and bass-baritone John Relyea as Bertram, in a performance led by conductor Daniel Oren.