What the devil? Royal Opera stages Meyerbeer rarity

Thu Dec 6, 2012 9:28am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - The audience at London's Royal Opera House is in for a big surprise on Thursday night.

They will witness German composer Giacomo Meyerbeer's 1831 grand opera "Robert le Diable" (Robert the Devil), a work so rarely performed that virtually no one has seen it, let alone sung it or played it.

In fact, the last time Britain's prestigious Royal Opera House put on the epic work was in 1890, by which time it had fallen out of favor, never to recover fully.

"I think the piece still works today," said Laurent Pelly, the French director with the Herculean task of staging a work that turned Meyerbeer into a superstar when it premiered in Paris nearly two centuries ago.

"I hope they will be taken by the story and the music and the singers," he told Reuters backstage on the eve of opening night. "It's a huge piece."

The chorus is 80-strong, there are 10 dancers, and the principal singers face roles among the most demanding in opera.

Adding to the stress was a last-minute casting change for the key role of Isabelle, which was to have been performed by American soprano Jennifer Rowley in her Royal Opera debut until she was replaced less than a week before the premiere.

"It was a musical problem," Pelly explained. "We were doing five weeks and in the end it was not possible to do, so it was very important to find somebody else," he added, speaking in English.   Continued...

This undated handout photograph released by the Royal Opera House, shows Canadian bass-baritone John Relyea singing the role of Bertram in ROH's production of Giacomo Meyerbeer's rarely-performed grand opera Robert le Diable in London December 06, 2012. REUTERS/Handout/ROH/Bill Cooper