Tristan | Grosse Pointe, Michigan | 04/24/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I purchased this recording because I had previously purchased it on LP. It is said to be the most complete performance of this work in modern times. I am very fond of this opera. I first got acquainted with it in a recording now on Opera D'Oro from La Scala which is in Italian and is cut. Renata Scotto sings Isabella and she is wonderful - no hint of strain aside from a few isolated wirey top notes (she was never what I consider a "top note singer" but for the most part the voice here is sweet and her phrasing beautiful, with every note on pitch). Boris Christoff is Bertam & as always he is a force of nature. The Roberto is good. The Isabella is dull but adequate. The Italian does not bother me but others may object.
Getting back to the Gala version from the Paris Opera: The sound is somewhat improved from the LP edition. June Anderson does a good job but is not up to Scotto's excellence. Samuel Ramey is excellent, certainly the equal of Christoff but more idiomatic. Alain Vanzo is superior as Robert and Michele Lagrange makes a very positive impression as Alice.
So what is the problem? I was startled while listening to Disc 2. The last band (actually # 25 although identified as #23 in the booklet) cut off in mid phrase!!! This passage is complete on my LP version so the problem is with the Gala edition. About 4 minutes of music is missing - very annoying. When I finished listening to the opera, I was looking forward to hearing the Valentine/ Raoul duet from Les Huguenots listed as a BONUS TRACK on the back of the CD jewel case and also in the booklet. Alas the duet is missing . The price of these discs is very reasonable but one should expect to get a complete performance and also the advertised BONUS!!! So again, BUYER BEWARE!!
A Very Grand Opera Indeed!
Steven Muni | Sutter Creek, CA USA | 08/06/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Originally writing this opera for a less sumptous production at the Opera-Comique, with only three acts, much less ballet and some spoken dialogue, Meyerbeer saw the direction that French opera was going with the success of Rossini's mammoth Guillaume Tell, produced in 1828. So Meyerbeer rewrote this opera into five acts, added characters, sung recitative and a great deal of ballet music. By 1830 Paris had become the opera capital of the world, and the French wanted their money's worth. Operas had become a grand and glorious (and long) spectacle, with grand plots, great scenery, numerous characters, and long ballets. Robert le Diable was the first of Meyerbeer's grand operas, to be followed by Les Huguenots, Le Prophete and L'Africaine. In many ways Meyerbeer was the man most reponsible for putting the grand in grand opera.
Set in 13th century Palermo, during the period of Norman rule, Robert le Diable is the story of Robert, son of a mortal mother and the Devil. In exile, Robert is unaware that his companion, Bertram, is actually his father, the Devil. Bertram, seeking to win Robert's soul, tricks Robert and he allows Isabelle, his true love, to become engaged to another. Bertram then persuades Robert to commit sacrilege to capture Isabelle. However, Alice, Robert's half-sister, discovers Bertram's malign intent and is able to persuade Robert to read a warning from his late mother. Alice, who has also discovered that Bertram must win Robert's soul before midnight, contrives, along with Robert, to keep Bertram engaged in an arguement until after the stroke of twelve, at which time Bertram returns to the nether world and Robert can marry his lady love. Needless to say, there are also side romances and subplots.
Although the music lacks the melodic line and exciting cabalette of the bel canto masters, it is still extremely tuneful and in some cases downright exciting. Chopin called it a masterpiece, and Meyerbeer influenced many later composers, not the least of whom was Wagner. In fact Meyerbeer was something of a mentor to the young Wagner, and helped him with the production of his early operas. Although as his anti-Semitism grew Wagner would later, without cause, savagely turn on Meyerbeer, Meyerbeer's concept of opera as a complete art form, as a fusion of words, music, dance and spectacle, was instrumental in the development of Wagner's own operas. French grand opera later fell out of fashion due to its length and the difficulty of staging, (who has the budget these days?) and one doesn't hear much of Meyerbeer today--which is a distinct pity.
This live 1985 recording of the Opera de Paris is wonderfully cast. As Robert, Monegasque tenor Alain Vanzo was one of the last of the great lyric tenors of the French school, blessed with a beautiful light lyric tenor of tremendous smoothness and suppleness, who could always make it seem effortless. At age 57 when this was recorded, Vanzo's singing is no longer quite so effortless and some strain is evident on the high notes; but his musicality and style are firmly in place and he handles the high tessitura with agility. Bertram is sung by Samuel Ramey in his prime. He had the most agile bass voice of the second half of the 20th century and was one of the few basses who could navigate the bel canto repertoire with ease. He is still a powerful voice, although now singing heavier roles, like Boris Godunov. June Anderson, an under-recorded bel canto and early Verdi interpreter, is magnificent as Isabelle, and the rest of the cast is uniformly excellent. The orchestra and chorus of the Opera of Paris, under the baton of Thomas Fulton, give a rousing and first-rate performance.
And the sound is really quite decent, especially for a live performance. GALA is a budget label whose sound quality varies from totally unlistenable to quite decent, and this recording is of the quite decent variety. Although the advertised bonus cut is missing, given the budget price, this opera and this recording deserve five stars."