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First edition of the vocal score, Paris, [1831]. Royal College of Music, London.

Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable

December 2012

ROBERT LE DIABLE , Opéra en cinq actes. Paroles de E. Scribe et G. Delavigne. Musique de G. Meyerbeer. First performed at the Paris Opéra (Académie Royale de Musique), 21 November 1831.

Described by Loewenberg as ‘one of the greatest operatic successes of all times, Robert le Diable returns to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on 6 December after an absence of 123 years.

Meyerbeer’s Il Crociato in Egitto had already met with considerable success in Paris from 1825 (18 months after its Venice première). Robert le Diable was his first French opera, originally conceived as an opéra comique – with spoken dialogue – and taking some four years to reach its final form. It decisively established Meyerbeer’s position in the operatic firmament (Fétis writing : ‘It is a work remarkable in the history of art … it incontestably places M. Meyerbeer at the head of the present German school!’) and as the grandest of grand operas and the most magnificent of spectacles it turned the fortunes of the Paris Opéra. The original cast featured four magnificent singers in Adolphe Nourrit, Nicolas Levasseur, Julie Dorus-Gras and Laure Cinti-Damoreau and the great ballerina Marie Taglioni as the Abbess.

Within three years it had received more than 100 performances at that theatre and been staged in London, Brussels, Berlin, Vienna, New York, St Petersburgh, Copenhagen, Budapest and numerous other cities. London was first in the field with The Daemon; or, the Mystic Branch at Drury Lane on 20 February 1832 and the The Fiend Father! or, Robert of Normandy at Covent Garden the following night. The French original followed at the King’s Theatre on 11 June of the same year with Nourrit and Levasseur in their original roles.

The Paris Opéra notched up 578 performances by 1893 (the 579th was not until 1984) while Covent Garden had achieved 100 by 1890.