Cher Public

In the details

The saga of the Royal Opera’s production of Robert le Diable, infinitely more melodramatic than the plot of the opera proper, continues: “After much deliberation and consultation following the final rehearsals of Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable, it has been agreed between The Royal Opera and soprano Jennifer Rowley that the role of Isabelle would not be the right part for her debut at Covent Garden.” [Royal Opera]

  • Camille

    Who is that handsome devil?

    Anyway—here is an article I found last night and am happy to now see this thread appear in which to post it, regarding Meyerbeer vs. Wagner. I am counting on all you Londoners to spill the beans on this important, nay historic, production, the first in over one hundred years.

    • Vergin Vezzosa

      Camille-Thanks for the little article. Will be happy to report back to you and other interested parterreans on ROBERT (with whatever cast that may actually appear) after I finally see it. And La C.- thanks to you from a relative newcomer for this wonderful site on its anniversary. Brava!

      • Camille

        Wonderful to hear, Vergin, as you seem to bear a special love of the music of this era and therefore your commentary would be informed by same. I am hoping for the best. The substitution of La Ciofi would appear to be a very good choice for the difficult role of Isabelle, e.g.

        Special Note to our friend High C’s A Plenty!!
        I shall be able to tell you more about the “Mario” aria on Wednesday, as I shall be back in NYC and have my score in hand once more. If you would like, I would be happy to forward you a copy of the aria, via La Cieca, if Cieca doesn’t mind acting as intermediary. Will get back to you!
        In fede—Camille

        • Camille

          This is for High C’s A Plenty -- to tide him over until the Mario aria appeareth.

          The great tenor heroique, Leon(ce) Escalais, from shortly after the tenor or the 20th century. Please pardon the piano and the acoustic; the singing is quite wonderful as is the technique:

          • Camille

            oh, too many tenors! “After the TURN of the 20th century…”

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      A bit much of that article to suggest the reason Meyerbeer has been absent from our stages is because we have been waiting for Bryan Hymel.

      • The Vicar of John Wakefield

        Indeed! An insult to Mitchinson, Swift, Remedios and Woollam.

        • Camille

          Charles Craig, too, Vicar—whose birth anniversary is today! Just recently hear this tenor, via the magic of YouTube, and was quite impressed.

          • The Vicar of John Wakefield

            Indeed. Plus Belfast’s Johnston--one understands a butcher by trade, but a damn fine singer. Tops in HUGH THE DROVER.

          • Nerva Nelli

            He was, too!

          • PushedUpMezzo

            Charles Craig was really rather amazing -- always around in the UK and never greatly appreciated until those late ENO Otellos. Although it was never exactly a golden voice (very dry-sounding) he had the rest of the vocal goods for Florestan, Don Alvaro, Riccardo and Siegmund. I heard all these roles live and how much we could do with someone similar today! Supposedly discovered by Sir Thomas Beecham.

          • Camille

            I believe it was that Butterfly excerpt I posted with the adorable Sheridan, that was Mr. Craig. Anyway, we’d be more than happy to have him around these daze….if I had the time I would go find it again, but I don’t.

      • grimoaldo

        The article does not really suggest that Cocky, how do you get that from “And the tenor Bryan Hymel, who sings the title role in Robert le Diable at Covent Garden, thinks that the extreme vocal demands of this opera have probably contributed to its neglect: “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to sing,” he declares.”
        What the article says, which is true, is that Meyerbeer’s works were driven off the stage by a systematic anti-Semitic campaign led by Wagner and followed by his acolytes as the wikipedia article on Meyerbeer says:
        “The critical assaults of Wagner and his supporters, especially after his death, led to a decline in the popularity of his works; his operas were suppressed by the Nazi regime in Germany.”
        Another good article on this subject:
        Wagner went from fawning adulation of Meyerbeer (whose operas are the greatest influence on Wagner’s own)
        ” In one letter to Meyerbeer, Wagner writes, “Goethe is dead—but he was no musician; there is nobody left but you.”
        to disgraceful vilification and vile racial abuse:
        “Starting with the first version of “Judaism in Music,” which was published 1850, Wagner’s vilification of Meyerbeer, as both composer and as Jew, is complete….With its talk of mauscheln (so-called perverted speech that could in turn produce only perverted music), and its claim that Meyerbeer stole from Weber and Rossini, “Opera and Drama” (a tract by Wagner) argues that Meyerbeer was inherently incapable of producing absolute music: “As a Jew, [Meyerbeer] owned no mother-tongue, no speech inextricably entwined among the sinews of his inmost being.”

        Of course no one has to like Meyerbeer or any composer, I am not trying to say that if you don’t enjoy Meyerbeer’s works you are anti-Semitic, but it is undoubtedly true that it became unacceptable in the 20th century to present his operas because of a poisonous and systematic anti-Semitic campaign led by Wagner.
        Meyerbeer, unlike many Jewish people at the time, did not convert, was proud of his heritage, and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Berlin.
        “Meyerbeer died in Paris on 2 May 1864. Gioachino Rossini, who came to his apartment the next day to meet him, not having heard the news, was shocked and fainted. He was moved to write on the spot a choral tribute (Pleure, pleure, muse sublime!)”
        European culture was able to accept, and celebrate, a Jewish composer as being at the pinnacle of artistic excellence in the 19th century, but in the 20th his works were driven off the stage by anti-Semites.

        • Camille

          Thank you very, very much for those words of wisdom, grimoaldo. You are a valiant knight.

        • Vergin Vezzosa

          Ditto, of course. And grimoaldo thanks for yet another article.

        • Belfagor

          While anti-Semitism is of course a noxious thing, and a festering sore in European culture and partly the reason Meyerbeer may have been eclipsed, the major reason is surely the music itself. For all his incredible originality, his templating of the grandest gestures, effects and techniques of 19th century opera, he was very quickly -- and very obviously -- superseded by his imitators, notably Verdi and Wagner -- not to mention scores of lesser folk whose operas are exhumed more regularly today. They are -- simply -- much superior composers and put all of Meyerbeer’s discoveries to infinitely better use. In fact one work -- Aida -- explodes all of French Grand Opera and renders it redundant by streamlining its conventions, structural requirements and possessing music that never lets up in inspiration. I’m really partial to hokey French stuff, and have listened to alot of it, but you only need to spend five minutes with a Meyerbeer score to see how clunky the musical technique is, and how short-breathed and manufactured almost all his melodies and inventions are. It’s this, and the extreme technical difficulty that have removed them from the repertoire.

          I really wish I were in London to hear ‘Robert’ in the flesh -- I have seen L’africaine and Les Huguenots -- but I know it will be ultimately exhausting and disappointing.

          I think it’s fascinating that Chopin et al were taken in by all the bling, they MUST have heard those clumsy modulations and broken backed phrase-structures -- it reminds me of a quote somewhere where Schumann admitted that Paganini sounded ‘scratchy’, but people thought his genius was devil possessed because he looked the part and introduced new violin flashy effects. I do know that Bizet, who was a pianist at the Opera in Paris had to play through the long-long-long awaited score of L’africaine (after Meyerbeer’s death) to the director Emile Perrin, HOURS of it, and when he finally finished, and there was an awed silence -- Perrin asked Bizet what he thought and he said ‘Sir, it’s -- it’s it’s AWFUL!!’ -- and was promptly suspended!

          • phoenix

            Belgargo, there are always moments in any opera by any composer that one has to ‘mark time’ to get through. I wonder what Bizet thought when he heard the dreaded Dionorah (see below)?

          • Belfagor

            Phoenix -- I love my new name -- Belgargo, it sounds somewhat louche.

            How can one not fail to love, adore ‘Dinorah’ -- where the heroine manages to get struck by lightning TWICE and is accompanied throughout by her pet goat -- can you imagine? Her frock would be totally eaten, and half the set, by the end of interminable Act 1………Where is David Alden, Bieito, Cherniakov…………?

            Quite agree about marking time in most operas, inevitable even with geniuses, with Meyerbeer its most of the opera………….

          • Perhaps the goat is on the Atkins diet…

          • grimoaldo

            ‘Chopin et al were taken in by all the bling’

            You may agree with Bizet’s opinion of Meyerbeer rather than Rossini’s, who as I have already said, fainted away when he heard of Meyerbeer’s death and wrote a choral ode to Meyerbeer’s “sublime muse” on the spot, but I don’t think it is fair to say the many excellent composers who admired Meyerbeer’s works were all “taken in by bling”.
            They had the opinion that he was an excellent composer, which of course you are entitled to disagree with.

          • Here’s one comparatively late (1896), but extraordinarily enthusiastic, vote of support of Meyerbeer, from the memoirs of V.V. Yastrebtsev:

            “They talked about … Meyerbeer (whom Glazunov considers the most intelligent and gifted operatic composer of the West)…”

            Of course, Glazunov never wrote any operas himself, aside from some passages in Prince Igor. But he was a smart cookie.

          • Belfagor

            These insights are fascinating, especially from a composer such as Glazunov who had exemplary technique: it seems, whatever ones affection for Meyerbeer’s music, his inferiority is easily demonstrated by analyzing any 16 bar chunk alongside a ‘great’ -- say middle-period Verdi, just as it is demonstrable how miraculous Mozart is alongside (even) Haydn or Rossini (in purely theoretical terms this is) when one looks at harmonic rhythm, phrase structure, melodic spontaneity and so on -- you may adore Andrew Lloyd-Webber for instance, but if you put an example of his work alongside, say, Jerome Kern, it seems like the work of a middling child.

          • I think you are absolutely right. There would have been no Ballo act 2 and three without Les Huguenot, yet how vastly superior, more compact, more natural and richer Verdi stands (especially the duet and revenge quartet which are so obviously taken from Meyerbeer) alongside his predecessor.

          • Alto

            Add Berlioz to the poor people whose musical perceptions are not up to those of grimoaldo and were thus “taken in.” He considered LES HUGUENOTS the greatest of all operas — until the premiere of ROBERT LE DIABLE, which he declared as the best ever.

            It’s an affinity that we might keep in mind as we hear the new iteration of LES TROYENS at the Met.

          • phoenix

            Alto -- I share Berlioz’ enthusiasm for both Huguenots & Robert le diable, but I believe Robert le Diable premiered first in 1831 before the Huguenots in 1836 -- perhaps Berlioz meant that he considered Robert le diable the greatest until he heard Huguenots -- or perhaps Berlioz’ recollections were correct in that he might have been out of town when they did Robert le diable but was there to witness the premiere of Huguenots before = before he ever saw Robert le diable. At any rate, my personal favorite is Robert le diable -- but I love them both, of course.

          • grimoaldo

            Alto says:
            “Add Berlioz to the poor people whose musical perceptions are not up to those of grimoaldo and were thus “taken in.”

            What? Maybe I did not make it clear enough that I was quoting something Belfagor had said about composers being “taken in”. It is not my opinion at all.

          • la vociaccia

            Alto, I don’t believe you meant to direct that comment at Grimoaldo…

          • Alto

            I didn’t mean to direct my reply to anyone at all. Non ad hominem. But yes, I did reverse the order of Berlioz’s two enthusiasms.

        • RobNYNY1957

          I think you have found one possible reason, but one reason among many. Here’s the performance history of Meyerbeer’s operas at the Met, by decade. (Tabulated by season instead, the results would have been slightly different, but not muchl.) P = Prophete, A = Africaine, D = Dinorah, H = Huguents, T = Total.

          1883-89: P 33, A 5, D 0, H 13, T 51

          1980-99 P 6, A 13, D 2, H 66, T 86

          1900-09 P 12, A 11, D 0, H 40, T 63

          1910-19 P 11, A 0, D 0, H 10, T 21

          1920-29 P 10, A 31, D 3, H 0, T 44

          1930-34 P 0, A 14, D 0, H 0, T 14

          I think therea re a lot of other factors at work: The rise of verismo; excellent casts for Wagner while casting Meyerbeer become more difficult; the lack of demand for Meyerbeer’s less fashionable forms (and French grand opera in general); the rise of nationalistic operas; etc. Meyerbeer’s operas were still going strong at the Met six decades after Wagner had started slighting them, but then had largely disappeaered from the state before the rise of Nazism in Germany. If anti-Semitism is behind that, the causality is hard to draw.

          Other Jewish composers did not follow the same trajectory, in either popular or classical music.

          There were also some cultural forces that might have given Meyerbeer a boost, such as the ban on German operas at the Met during the United States’ involvement in World War I, and potential anti-German and anti-Italian sentiment during World War II. Nevertheless four German/Austrian or Italian composers by themselves have about 40 operas in the repertory. Are there any French composers with more than one or two? At this point, there about as many Czech operas by three composeres in the repertory as French operas by all French composers. The closest thing we have in the repertory to French grand opera in the repertory would be “Aida” and “Don Carlos.”

          Consequently, the assertion that anti-semitism drove Meyerbeer from the repertory is incomplete at best.

          • RobNYNY1957

            In fact, one of the examples of Meyerbeer’s “cosmopolitanism” that is occasionallly given is the use of “Eine feste Burg” as a leitmotiv for the Huguenots, when in fact it was an anthem of German protestants composed abotu a century and a half after the events in France depicted in Meyerbeer’s opera. I wonder if a truly French composer would have done that.

          • Wasn’t able to reply to RobNYNY1957 but Eine feste Burg was written by Martin Luther apparently between 1527-29 -- the St Bartholomew Day Massacre was in 1572. True that it is a Lutheran hymn but may well have found its way into use in the Huguenot worship despite their Calvinist roots.

          • RobNYNY1957

            The words, yes. The music, no. Meyerbeer quoted the music, not the words.

          • Interesting as several sources state that Luther wrote both the words and music between 1527-29. And that it first appeared in a Lutherean hymnal in 1531. In both versions of my Hymns Ancient and Modern the text and melody are shown as Luther. Is there another version I’m not familiar with?

        • , but it is undoubtedly true that it became unacceptable in the 20th century to present his operas because of a poisonous and systematic anti-Semitic campaign led by Wagner.

          This seems a little reductionist to me. Mendelssohn, too, was banned by the Nazis, yet his violin concerto and symphonies are played today. And there is an element of Daniel Goldhagenism in this line of argument -- obviously there was a great deal of anti-Semitism in Germany, but there was -- until the rise of National Socialism -- a great deal of tolerance towards Jews as well -- much more than would be found in lands to Germany’s east. Nor does it seem likely that opera houses in France and Italy would take marching orders from Wagner (at least, until the occupation and the later Mussolini).

          All the grand operas from Meyerbeer’s era (Halevy, Auber) fell out of the repertory, not just his.

          Wagner wrote vile anti-semitic things, but he was also an intelligent (if opinionated) critic -- all the anti-semitism in the world wouldn’t have convinced so many people if his musical and dramatic critiques of Meyerbeer (“effects without causes”) didn’t at least partially hit their mark. Wagner’s own works were also, in part, an artistic response to Meyerbeerean grand opera: the move from historical subjects towards mythology, from politics to philosophy. To the extent that people enjoyed these librettos and the music accompanying them, Meyerbeer’s works became less palatable.

          Composers go in and out of fashion. Mozart in the 19th century was regarded as “pretty”, but inconsequential. Weber’s operas aren’t now nearly as popular as they were. Verdi’s reputation went into eclipse shortly after his death. People could speak the name “Dr. Hanson” without snickering. Offenbach was dead in Germany and Austria until kultural kritiks like Kracauer and Karl Kraus made him one of their own.

          Wagner’s anti-semitic attacks on Meyerbeer did stick to the Jewish composer’s reputation, but I think it simplistic to attribute Meyerbeer’s decline solely to them.

          • grimoaldo

            “obviously there was a great deal of anti-Semitism in Germany, but there was – until the rise of National Socialism – a great deal of tolerance towards Jews as well”


            ” King Frederick William III of Prussia who attended the second performance of Robert le diable, swiftly invited him to compose a German opera, and Meyerbeer was invited to stage Robert in Berlin…Following the death of Frederick William III, the new regime of Frederick William IV [installed] Meyerbeer … later in the year as Prussian Generalmusikedirektor and director of music for the Royal Court.”

            Meyerbeer was commissioned to write a number of pieces for royal occasions in Germany, he was rewarded and revered by the German establishment.

            “Nor does it seem likely that opera houses in France and Italy would take marching orders from Wagner.”

            It isn’t that they were obeying Wagner so much as that as Wagner’s reputation rose the (anti-Semitic) attacks he and his followers had made on Meyerbeer made it “uncool” to admit to enjoying Meyerbeer’s works.

          • It isn’t that they were obeying Wagner so much as that as Wagner’s reputation rose the (anti-Semitic) attacks he and his followers had made on Meyerbeer made it “uncool” to admit to enjoying Meyerbeer’s works.

            Those parentheses around “anti-semitic” are doing an awful lot of work there -- not all of Wagner’s attacks on Meyerbeer were solely rooted in anti-Semitism; Wagner also had artistic disagreements with the composer.

            The strong form of your claim, with the parentheses removed, would read “as Wagner’s reputation rose, the anti-Semitic attacks he and his followers had made etc.” just doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny, and lots of people here have already taken issue with it. It would presume very high levels of curiously selective anti-Semitism across wide swaths of Western Europe and the US.

            Without the parenthetical “anti-semitism”, we have “as Wagner’s reputation rose, the attacks he and his followers had made etc” -- rings more true because some of Wagner’s artistic critiques of Meyerbeer rang true. But not all non-Meyerbeereans were also Wagnerites -- a 20th-century person could have found Meyerbeer’s works overblown, poorly executed, or just old-fashioned, without ever having worshiped Der Meister.

          • oedipe

            I have to recount a little story here.

            The night I saw Robert at Garnier -the Petrika Ionesco production with Anderson and Ramey- there was an older gentleman seated in the orchestra section who had a fit of rage. He started screaming that it was “honteux” to see this opera staged at the Garnier. I don’t know what his agenda was, but I couldn’t understand why he bothered buying an expensive ticket and sitting through such an infamous opera.

            And yes, Meyerbeer is not cool, not fashionable, has no snob appeal; that’s one of the main reasons he is not staged more often (this is not a value judgement on my part, just a factual observation).

          • RobNYNY1957

            Could you explain the “Dr. Hanson” reference?

          • Straussmonster

            Oedipe, I’d also suggest that Meyerbeer is awfully expensive for “what you get”, in terms of the soloists, chorus, and the scenic demands of the opera. (That was both my and my companion’s reaction after Bard’s Les Huguenots…although I’d still go see it again, in a well-done production.)

          • Howard Hanson, the Bard of Wahoo, who was once regarded as a greater luminary than he is today. Yes, he still has his fans, but I have a cyanide capsule I am perfectly willing to use before I will listen to any of Merrymount again.

          • phoenix

            Where did you see Merrymount? I only saw it once -- 1974 at Chautauqua, NY with Chester Ludgin, Johanna Meier and Richard Kness, conducted by the composer. I was a little disappointed at Hanson’s cuts -- it did little to improve the performance and I think if he had more rehearsal time he would not have made those cuts. I like the Naxos recording with Lauren Flanigan.

          • DurfortDM

            “the move from historical subjects towards mythology, from politics to philosophy”

            On a comparative basis I’d take the former over the latter at least 15 times out of 10. (Though, of course, mythology in opera was hardly a Wagnerian innovation and was in fact popular in the 17th, to me a more interesting and certainly a more entertaining one than the 19th -- no wonder those guys wanted some historical subjects -- but whatever). For this reason alone Meyerbeer’s operas hold enormous appeal and which is moreover enhanced by their performance history and contemporary rarity. For all these reason I’ve sought them out and have given them more than the old college try and have found that, from a musical perspective at least, the old anti-semitic crank might have had a point (or several dozen).

            Effects without causes, lack of dramatic tension, long periods of ennui and just stretches of very pedestrian music. To be clear I would go to some lengths to seek out a liver performance and might even be willing to tolerate the presence of La Poplovskaya in such (well, ok, maybe not THAT -- hard to say for sure). Under no circumstances can I imagine myself trudging to the (at this point) close to or over a hundred or so performances of Wagner I’ve attended so far. So to me, at least, the evolution of musical taste to the latter would seem a rather positive development.

          • On a comparative basis I’d take [historical subjects and politics] over the [mythology and philosophy] at least 15 times out of 10.”

            I’m in sympathy with your position, but there’s a critique of it that’s hard to ignore -- namely that the very irreality of opera tends to dehistoricize and mythologize even ostensibly historical subjects. We can (and do) suspend disbelief when watching historical fiction, but that tension between realism and artifice is perhaps at its strongest in historical opera. I can understand why Wagner would try to resolve this tension by progressively eliminating the “realistic” elements until finally, with Parsifal, he explored a religious mystery play. Once this critique of the historical genre has been made, it’s harder to suspend disbelief and enjoy all the frocks, period scenery etc. Wagner, for all the realistic psychology with which he invested his gods and other legendary figure, helped open the door to a theater which blasted away the conventions of the “realistic drama” prevalent at the time. In this sense, he was a very 20th-century figure.

          • Ilka Saro

            When it comes to the taste for mythology or politics in one’s libretti:

            When I was 8 years old I was already enthusiastically inventing (I wouldn’t really say composing) operas. Former President Eisenhower had just had a heart attack (and was soon to die). My parents mentioned that he had had several hearts attacks by this time.

            In another conversation, my father was indulging my enthusiasm for creating operas, and said “You could pick a fairy tale, like Snow White.” I replied “I’d could do one on President Eisenhower’s heart attacks.” I was sent to my room. To me, I had a rather Verdian view of the heroic president struggling to heal the nation as his own body fails. However, my parents, who preferred that I restrict myself to familiar childhood themes, thought I was shooting my mouth off.

            I still prefer my operas to have political themes. And of course, with Wagner, mythology and politics are closely intertwined. At least that is so in the Ring.

          • I think an Eisenhower opera sounds great. Act I finale: the construction of the interstate highway system (symbolism: emphasis on good circulation).

          • Ilka Saro

            “Maaaaaa ti guaaardaa il complesso industriale militare! Ti guarda! Ti guarda!”

    • Chanterelle

      Gaultier M, is that you?

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Unusual announcement from Covent Garden to say the least.
    As for Sophia Fomina:

    • manou

      Fomina the mouth.

      • bluecabochon

        I’ll be hearing Fomina on the 21st and am looking forward to this epic evening.

  • Ilka Saro

    I hope Ms Rowley got a nice fat cancellation fee.

  • phoenix

    I am surprised this blog is making such a fuss at all over any Meyerbeer opera after that chilly comment I got awhile back from nuestra Doyeñita noblessa.
    -- Well, to each their own, as always. Meyerbeer is a favorite of mine -- if I were the Mona Lyla of the day, I would insist on singing Meyerbeer or I wouldn’t even show up.

  • CarlottaBorromeo

    I love this sentence: “However, voices do develop, and we have to recognize that this role is not ideally suited for her now more dramatic voice.” Since Damrau didn’t cancel until mid-April the change must have indeed been ‘dramatic’!

    • Camille

      What I love about that sentence the most is that it is said in utmost seriousness and sincerity (one hopes), and that La Rowley’s voice apparently ‘developed’ from one bloody rehearsal to the next.

      What a joke.
      I don’t know anything about her at all other than the fact she got excellent reviews for that Telemann thing last spring. Ciofi will do well, though, and was probably always preferable.

      • The_Kid

        well, at this rate, she’ll be a contralto by next year, and singing “tancredi” or something!

      • MontyNostry

        It reminds me of Micaela Carosi’s pregnancy becoming an issue at the ROH dress rehearsal of Aida last year.

  • operalover9001

    It’s bizarre -- Rowley did all of the rehearsals up until the final staging dress on Saturday, and I guess it will be Ciofi doing the public dress today? Besides, I call bullshit on the “voices develop…dramatic voice” thing. Damrau cancelled in April, and there was a lot of speculation that the ROH would try and Ciofi as Isabelle. Are they just kicking Rowley out because they’ve finally managed to get Ciofi?

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      There’s obviously more to the story than meets the eye, but Covent Garden has been very kind to the youngster by handling it this way. Smeels fishy though.

  • oedipe

    What I would like to know is this: why do the managements of top opera houses show such INCOMPETENCE when it comes to casting (most) French operas?
    Wasn’t it obvious from the beginning that Rowley, who has no experience whatsoever in singing Meyerbeer, or French opera in general, would hardly be up to such a difficult task?
    Why bother staging French opera if you can’t/don’t know how to cast it? Is it a status symbol or something?

    • operalover9001

      Well, I don’t think that Rowley was incapable of singing the role. After all, it’s not like Damrau or Poplavskaya have much experience singing Meyerbeer, and they would have pulled Rowley out much earlier if it became evident that she couldn’t sing the role. The funny thing is that ROH decided to just give the cover the entire run after the cancellation. Risky, but they knew it would get more press than replacing Damrau with, say, Ciofi. And now, they’re turning it around again, and probably paying a lot of money to both Rowley and Ciofi…

      • oedipe

        My point was, why didn’t they hire Ciofi from the beginning? She is the only francophone and the only one who has already sung the role on stage before, so she couldn’t have been the riskiest bet. And now that all the others have fallen through, they discover Ciofi!!

        • They didn’t hire Ciofi because they needed a star in at least one of the leading roles, and that star was Damrau-- whose repertoire includes Leila, Manon, Comtesse Adele, the Hoffmann heroines, Philine and Marguérite di Valois.

          She canceled and the ROH had to find a soprano plausible in the role who was available for the rehearsal period and the run of performances. A glance at Ciofi’s schedule shows she was booked for operas in Naples and Avignon from October through December 1. She is presumably going into this Robert production with a day or two of coaching and a single dress rehearsal, and even so, she can commit for only four performances.

          So, in other words, Ciofi was not available when Damrau canceled. And it would have made little sense to cast Ciofi originally because she is not the box-office attraction this work needs.

          • oedipe

            And now they have…Ciofi! Not that I am complaining about it, whatever the box office outside of France may think of her.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            I really think the ROH is convinced that Poplavskaya IS a star, La Cieca, as we’ve said before.

      • javier

        Damrau has some experiene with French and roles. She sang a nice Marguerite de Valois in Meyerbeer’s “Les Huguenots, but that was quite a while back. Her most recent French role was Philine in Thomas’ “Mignon”, showed that after her pregnancy her coloratura and high notes have diminished.

        Coifi has sung Isabel before and she’s French. It seems like the casting people at the ROH considered everyone, including some newcomer before they would even offer the role to her. The funny thing is that if they’d cast her to begin with there probably wouldn’t have been such a mess. They were obviously too busy thinking about how is a current star soprano, and who is the next upcoming star soprano to realize that the star can’t always sing the role.

        • armerjacquino

          Ciofi’s not French, she’s Italian. And as la cieca has pointed out, at the time Damrau cancelled Ciofi was not available.

          • oedipe

            Ciofi is Italian-born but works and lives mostly in France. And she is fully bilingual, she speaks perfect French.

          • armerjacquino

            Oh, I see. Like Swiss soprano Joan Sutherland, or the Austrian Anna Netrebko.

          • armerjacquino

            That looks less jocular in black and white than it was intended to be.

          • Camille

            I thought it was plenty jocular, jock! Make that jacq!

          • oedipe

            You are so right! Sutherland spoke perfect French and Netrebko speaks perfect German. The exact same situation as Ciofi, how did I not see it before?

          • MontyNostry

            I thought that La Stupenda spoke Joanish -- it’s like Danish, but with even mushier consonants.

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          I just think Ciofi is a dull, safe pair of hands. The fact that it’s her now is making me consider taking the ROH up on their offer of an exchange for another production.

          • Regina delle fate

            Cocky -- you mean you would have preferred Rowley? I rather like Ciofi although I can see that she’s not an exciting Kunstdiva…

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            Regina, I would have preferred an exciting voice of the future or however the ROH put it to Ciofi, yes.

      • Su Traditor

        Well she was incapable. Day after day she proved she couldn’t sing it, lovely as her voice is. Sofia Fomina is doing a terrific job in the general though and it’s a shame she’s not doing the whole run though Ciofi will surely be successful.

      • Antonio Pappano thought La Rowley was great and hired her. Daniel Oren had conducted the opera with Ciofi before, had Ciofi’s sound in mind for the role, and made no bones about it from the very beginning. As someone said, if Rowley had been unable to sing the role, they’d have made the change long before now. And yes, I do hope they’re paying Rowley a ton of money.

        • oedipe

          Well, they also think Poplavskaya is great, so they hired her. That’s a controversial opinion, to say the least.

        • bewilbered

          Rowley is covering Desdemona at the Met in the spring and supposedly has a scheduled Met debut coming up — anybody have more details?

          • operalover9001

            I think it’s Musetta in Boheme in the 13-14 season. That’s just a rumor I’ve heard though, not certain at all.

          • bewilbered

            Speaking of Met debuts, I found a recent interview with Bryan Hymel where he says he and the Met have “finally found a project/agreed on a project.”

          • operalover9001

            Ooh, I hope it’s Guillaume Tell -- Pierre Audi is directing a new production of the opera in Amsterdam this season, and it’s a co-production with the Met. I’m REALLY hoping it’s not Poplavskaya as Mathilde though. Would rather hear Crocetto in the role, or Rowley for that matter…

          • Vergin Vezzosa

            Juiliana Di Giacomo did an excellent Mathilde at Caramoor 2 summers ago. I for one would be pleased if she was engaged for the Met Tell.

          • bewilbered

            Hopefully we can still have Hymel in GUILLAUME TELL but not have to wait until 2018 for him to debut!

        • warmke

          Oren, a mediocrity, pulls this stunt quite often. It’s easy to do this with a non-standard repertoire piece when a “name” conductor isn’t there to replace a conductor who threatens to pull out. He humiliated a soprano who later became a world-class dramatic soprano for being too light for a Puccini spinto lead cover with him. Legendary asshole.

          • He is, and a very mediocre Kappelmeister too. I once heard from him a performance of Cavalleria’s intermezzo in which he tore the piece to shreds. Unbelievably vulgar.

      • Gualtier M

        Jennifer Rowley handled high coloratura quite well when she sang “Maria di Rohan” as a very last-minute replacement for an unprepared Takesha Meché Kizart at Caramoor a few summers ago. What I noticed when she sang Orasia in the Telemann “Orpheus” last seaso was that the voice had gotten quite large and rather overwhelmed the small theater. She sounded almost spinto-ish with a much fuller, darker sound and the high notes were very loud. It sounded like she had graduated from Mozart/Bel Canto in Verdi/Puccini.

        BTW: the role of Isabelle was written for Laure Cinti-Damoreau who was a soprano-léger or high coloratura. The other role of Alice is actually a bit heavier and was created by Julie Dorus-Gras but famously taken over by Marie-Cornelie Falcon who gave her name to the falcon voice type.

        • UnBalloInWaxera

          Your ears don’t deceive you… She’s a spinto…she sang a Verdi Requiem this past spring for her Carnegie debut…all upcoming gigs on her website are either Verdi or Puccini…Pappano heard and hired that spinto size and colour…sources say her ACTUAL ROH debut will be in Vespri next fall, in another publicity stunt by ROH, which this Robert debacle was….since when does a singer without yet having her debut get to don the same space in ALL of the papers as the Royal Fetus?!?!?!?

    • As opposed to all those legions of Meyerbeer specialists who haunt the outer halls of impresarios wanly offering, “I could sing Pardon de Ploërmel tomorrow!”

      • Camille

        “It’s only a matter of color and tessie-tura!!!”

      • phoenix

        • oedipe

          Thanks Phoenix! Yes, Isabel Philippe is excellent in the French rep. So why is SHE not cast in French roles outside of France?

          • PushedUpMezzo

            What about Ryan Philippe?

          • oedipe

            He should audition for French opera at the ROH, they may hire him.

        • grimoaldo

          How utterly delightful and charming!
          Thank you so much for that phoenix!

          • phoenix

            You are very welcome -- it’s only a fluff of air compared to the interesting & insightful comments you have given these years.

    • Walter von Holzhaufen

      Not knowing how to cast it, or where to find a conductor who had any clue about the score, didn’t stop ROH from producing Les Troyens earlier this year.

      • oedipe

        I propose a new game.

        Not knowing how to cast it, or where to find a conductor who had any clue about the score, didn’t stop […] from producing […] […].

        Fill in the blanks with:
        -the name of a major opera house;
        -the name of a (French or other) production;
        -a recent operatic season.

        • oedipe

          Here is an easy one:

          Not knowing how to cast it, or where to find a conductor who had any clue about the score, didn’t stop [the Met] from producing [a revival of Les Troyens] [this season].

  • Benedetta Funghi-Trifolati

    Well, forgetting about the ROBERT ladies for a minute, it seems unfortunate Covent Garden has cast vocally workmanlike John Relyea as Bertram, an important role that in addition to purely vocal resources requires a huge, impressive, cape-twirling personality that leaps across the footlights, a la Christoff, who actually performed it, or Ghiaurov or Siepi, who did not, but certainly could have. Between the casting and the changes of cast which have plagued this production it’s almost as if the cold, icy fingers of Meyerbeer are reaching out from the ether wreaking havoc.

    • Often admonished

      Two or three seasons ago Relyea was everybody’s favourite in London -- the BBC Symphony seemed to contract him for every part written in the bass clef -- and that’s about when the ROH artistic department awoke from their Erda-like slumbers to cast this thing. The accelerando of disintegration as it falls apart is something to see.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        Meyerbeer is so unjustly forgotten. Here’s Cioffi (at 0:39-0:49 notice the Tannhaüser-esque progression and at 1:00-1:06 the similarity to Monsieur Triquet’s “toujours bel-le Ta-ti-a-na____”)

        and the finale with Ramey in finally a good print:

    • PushedUpMezzo

      It’s a case of Better the Devil You Know at the Opera House, I think. Always find Relyea vocally and dramatically uninteresting.

  • papopera

    It is now announced that HRH The Duchess of Cambridge is with child. The royal baby will be a direct descendant of William The Conqueror who was the father of Robert Le Diable. Appropriate opera for Covent Garden, isn’t it?

    • DurfortDM

      The son of Robert Le Diable. Big Rob is surely pleased to learn, in whichever part of the of which sphere of which circle he is currently resident in, that his legacy lives on.

  • PushedUpMezzo

    Still Nun the Wiser.

    Dame Julie or Florence Henderson should have been cast in the first place.

  • stevey

    Well, I find this most encouraging news, rumors, scandals, subterfuge, hidden agendas, and all other ‘possiblies’ aside.
    I simply am taking this to mean that for whatever reason, Covent Garden is trying to assemble the most able cast they can within their own realm of possibilities and legal capabilities and, if they felt this wasn’t Ms. Rowley, then good on them. They’re obviously not just planning on throwing her by the wayside…
    Personally, I think you Londoners are in for a treat, and I am thankful for it being brought (admittedly, most prominently through my learned brethren here on this site- yet another reason why I am so grateful for both it, and you all) to my attention. It was never an opera that really registered on my radar, much though I do like Meyerbeer. One of you on here posted the final trio a few weeks ago and I was absolutely captivated. The history, the artists- both past and (comparatively) recent, SO much about this opera is so rich and has so much to offer… the ROH should be commended for bringing this opera and all of its history into our modern consciousness, and I do hope that the production offers all who are lucky enough to access it, everything that the opera can.
    In regards to the casting…..
    I disagree with most of you who are erring towards the dismissive towards Marina Poplavskaya’s Alice. Robert le Diable is an opera that La Poplavskaya seems to want to have her fingers on the pulse of. Isabelle’s wonderful cavatina is now part of her recital repertoire (for good or for ill) and after my exposures to the wonderful final trio- where Alice and Bertram are literally pulling Robert apart in their battle for his soul (with that incredible moment where they- and it all- goes from B minor to full B major), I can see Poplavskaya doing quite well as an intense, determined Alice… NOT the ‘carefree’ Alice, the clutzy, somewhat normal girl suddenly propelled into circumstances way beyond her- yet who rises magnificently to the occasion (as was Mescheriakova in the 2000 Berlin performance, a performance which I am happy to share with anyone who may be interested (the sound isn’t the greatest…), but a girl still plagued by her OWN mother’s death, and fully cognizant of the grave circumstances and situation she finds herself in…
    Likewise, Alice requires none of the coloratura of Isabelle, which might be said to be a more ‘flighty’, typically ‘operatic’ role, and one in which I don’t think Poplavskaya would be in any way suitable for. But I can see her as a quite intense, young, very ‘Russian’ Alice… likewise, in that final trio, so much of Alice’s music seems to hover in and around the passagio… I think of those arching phrases after her first “Dieu puissante” (I believe the words are “Dieu— pui—ssan—te—- Ciel— pro—tec—teur—-Que—ton—Saint—Nom”), that start on (I believe) the F, the go to the G, and finally to the high A… punishing phrases (that Michele Lagrange handles wonderfully in the YouTube excerpt), even the few highest notes in this scene (high B’s, I believe)… I can see Popsy acquitting herself quite well in all of this, especially with all the desperate religious / ‘dead mother related’ supplicating going on…. I hope this is so, anyway…
    Ciofi is well acquainted with the role, obviously… do you think it could be said that, of all artists currently singing, she would be the most ‘practiced’ and ‘accomplished’ Isabelle?? I certainly wasn’t overwhelmed by any renditions of Isabelle’s music that I have heard… but I haven’t heard the Mok/Raspagliosi/et al/ Robert, so I freely admit that in this regard I really ESPECIALLY don’t know what the hell I’m talking about… ;-)
    Relyea… yeah, I’m not sure about this. But I’m willing to give him a shot. All I know is that you Londoner’s have a wonderful opportunity to hear a piece of music history that I can’t imagine any of us on this end of the Great Pond will have a chance of hearing- in such prominence, and held to such (hopefully) high standards- and I really do hope and pray that a good time is had by all. From my standpoints, at least…. the music truly does deserve it.

    • MontyNostry

      ” … so much of Alice’s music seems to hover in and around the passagio.” Perfect for Poplavskaya, then, since it can sometimes seem that two-thirds of her voice consists of passagio that needs to be gingerly manipulated.

      • bewilbered

        Actually, while I’m asking, there are some other sopranos with unspecified Met debuts: Meagan Miller (late 2013), Kathryn Lewek (13-14), Amanda Majeski, Pretty Yende. Any reports?

        If Miller is going to be a principal, Rosalinde makes sense to me. Kathryn Lewek maybe Lisa in SONNAMBULA or Fiakermilli, if Peretyatko has abandoned that to focus on PURITANI. But this is all just guesswork, and I’m hoping for more…

        And I’ll throw in Christian Van Horn, even though he’s a bass….

        • MontyNostry

          I hope the talented Miss Yende has sharpened her technique a little by the time she makes her Met debut.

          • armerjacquino

            Wow, but WHAT an instrument!

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            Yeah, it’s gorgeous isn’t it. Reminds me a bit of Freni.

        • Buster

          Pretty Yende was great when I heard her in 2008. I hope she gets La Sonnambula -- her Care Compagne was breathtaking. Lovely personality, too.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            Sorry to disagree Buster, but I think Pretty Yende should stay well away from Sonnambula. To me the high tessitura and coloratura always make her sound like she’s getting tied up in knots -- I think she’s a fully lyric who needs to let it all out.

          • Buster

            Interesting, Cocky. It was a big, free, vibrant voice, I remember, with an elegant phrasing, that was totally exciting. In the other big thing she sang that afternoon (International Vocal Competition ‘s Hertogenbosch) the excitement was less great -- a not very stylish Fledermauss Csardas, in which she was not living the music as she was in the Bellini. I have not heard her since, so I have no idea how she is developing. I remember she had already sung the Nozze Countess on stage before entering the IVC. Anyhow, have not heard anyone else making the same impact there since.

          • Based solely on the Vespiri Bolero clip, I’d have to agree with Cocky’s assessment of her voice. As AJ says, it is quite an instrument. I hope she keep working at her technique. What is she singing at the Met this season?

        • louannd

          You can hear snippets of Amanda Majeski in this Alcina i this video:

          She was an unheralded star of the unfortunate production of Griselda in Santa Fe in 2011. She was one of the few people on stage who acted like they totally bought into the production’s concept, quite the stage animal IMHO with a pretty decent voice. I really enjoyed her performance.

  • Just got an e-mail from Covent Garden advising me that the performance I’ve booked for the 15 will now end at 2235 not the previously announced 2215. Perhaps the Maestro has learned to slow down a bit -- always so “energetic” I believe is the word, on the podium!

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    This reading makes Margaret Juntwait sound like velvet!

    • Vergin Vezzosa

      QPF -- this is a RIOT! I only made it through the first 2 minutes and had to stop because I was laughing so hard. Thank you for the major mood pickup to end a tedious day of traveling. VV.

    • Camille

      “He carried off the difficult solo parts with a PLUM…”.

      Well intentioned, but hysterical all the same.