28 Nov 2006

MEYERBEER: Robert Le Diable

Robert Le Diable, grand opera in five acts.

Music by Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864). Libretto by Eugène Scribe and Germaine Delavigne.

First Performance: 21 November 1831, the Opéra, Paris.

Principal Characters:
Robert, Duke of Normandy Tenor
Bertram, his friend Bass
Raimbaut, a Norman peasant Tenor
Alberti, majordomo to the King of Sicily Bass
Isabelle, Princess of Sicily Soprano
Alice, a Norman peasant Soprano
Un Héraut Tenor
Une Dame d’Honneur Soprano
Un Prêtre Bass


Robert Le Diable was such a success that it made the fortune of the Grand Opéra. Striking scenic effects, powerful contrasts, brilliant orchestration, effectively dramatic recitatives, and melody that was attractive and, although it contained many traces of the old Italian opera conventionalities, at times rose to a vivid dramatic power, unexpected and until then unknown, all combined to win universal approval, for there was something to please every taste. Meyerbeer’s music certainly saved the libretto, for in it the melodramatic and grotesque are carried to the point of absurdity. The opera has a certain historical interest in that, being the first of Meyerbeer’s works after his arrival in Paris, it shows the beginning of his later style; Italian influences are still strong, but there is also evidence of his study of French style. From a broader historical point of view “Robert the Devil” is also of interest, for it contains some of the earliest signs of the influence of the Romantic movement on French dramatic music.


Robert, Duke of Normandy, is really the son of the Devil by a mortal woman, the chaste Princess Bertha of Normandy. Disguised and under the name of Bertram, the fiend follows his son about, constantly leading him into temptation in hope of winning his soul for Hell. The mother’s good influence clings to Robert in the form of a foster-sister, Alice. Banished from Normandy because of evil deeds inspired by Bertram, Robert has come to Sicily where he has fallen in love with the beautiful princess Isabella, and she with him. Bertram does his best to interfere with the match, and by his wiles keeps Robert from attending the tournament, the winner of which is supposed to have the right to claim Isabella’s hand. Having thus seemingly lost his chance to win her honestly, Robert is led by Bertram to a ruined convent at midnight. There Bertram summons the ghosts of faithless nuns, singing the impressive invocation: “Nonnes, qui reposez.”

The ghosts dance about Robert in wild diabolical revelry. With a magical branch he obtains here, Robert puts to sleep Isabella’s guards and tries to force her to his will, but she pleads with him so earnestly that he breaks the branch and thus loses its supernatural power. Once more Bertram tempts Robert and tries to induce him to sign a contract yielding his soul; he reveals himself as his father and the young man, overcome by emotion, is about to sign. But Alice repeats the last words of his mother, warning him against the fiend and thus delays the signing of the pact until the clock strikes twelve. The spell is broken, Bertram disappears to the nether regions, and Isabella is revealed in her bridal robes waiting at the altar for the redeemed Robert.

Click here for the complete libretto.