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The burning Ghars, or Ghats, or whatever they are

Lots of chatter in the British press about the Rowley rowdydow at the Garden, but what interests La Cieca the most is the pictorial evidence that Laurent Pelly‘s production of Robert le Diable looks exactly like a biscuit box.

74 comments

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Even though Meyerbeer was of great help launching Wagner’s career, Wagner detested him. Here, Margret’s possible replacement tells us all about Wagner

  • actfive says:

    I DO love a good “Private Lives” reference! And here are two! Brava, Cieca! And for NYCO: “It certainly is horrid when one begins to crumble.”

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    Need shoes?

  • Camille says:

    Is anyone back from the Diabolical Prima yet, in Londres? We are waiting for word from you all as to WHO actually showed up to sing what.

    • phoenix says:

      No one want to be accused of being observantly intelligent in Great Britain.
      - Alas! All we have right now is pornography from that insipid Intermezzo site (gagh)!

      • phoenix says:

        Thanks Monty! I’ve never seen Ciofi live, but I personally find her voice very one dimensional and lacking color -- she was not good in that live performance they broadcast awhile back of Il crociatto in Egitto. My question to you is: why do you think the audience loved Ciofi? Does she a have an engaging stage personality, interpretive ability that distracts the audience from judging how she actually sounds (as R. Scotto had)? Or do audiences nowadays just assume the soprano is the main reason to be enthusiastic about any performance? Or were the other leads so mediocre that she was loved by default?

        • MontyNostry says:

          I think the audience was expressing its gratitude for her ‘saving the show’ and also perhaps because she was the biggest name in the line-up (though, having read Jennifer Rowley’s bio in the programme, I wished I’d had the chance to see her instead). I didn’t enjoy watching Ciofi tonight, though I liked her as Gilda about three years ago. Pelly had clearly asked her to camp things up, and I find very physically effortful singers (like she is) rather painful to watch. And she pulled lots of faces while she was singing. Personally, I thought Hymel was easily the best of the four leads.

          • phoenix says:

            Thanks again, Monty -- camping it up & pulling lots of faces seems to work every time, doesn’t it? If La Ciofi does the bdcst, we will find out if she is as painful to listen to as she is to watch.
            - Have a goodnight!

    • MontyNostry says:

      Yes! Facetious, weak, inconsistent production with no attempt to create relationships between the characters,l which would maybe have helped the weird dramaturgy a little; sluggish conducting; Hymel excellent; Relyea generally strong, but lacking charisma; Ciofi a bit out of her depth, and at times painfully strenuous, but valiant (audience loved her); Popsy had her moments and worked hard, but she is far too inconsistent and manufactured-sounding; good supporting singers, especially Jean-François Borras as Raimbaut. The Nuns were like something out of George A Romero movie. Overall, it should have been better.

      • Camille says:

        Thank you, M. Monty!! I know I can always trust your opinion. I am a leetle bit surprised that your should find la Ciofi a bit out of her depth, though, as she had sung the role before and thought she would have been more at her ease than others. Well, Poppy ist ewig Poppy!!! At least she has the long blonde hair of a blameless naïve virgin!!!

        Mucho thank yous!

        • MontyNostry says:

          Camille, dearest, Ciofi is a good artist, but she seemed underpowered and effortful in the role in this auditorium. The voice had a husky, breathy edge to it and the high notes were clearly achieved with great effort (and an odd attack).

          • Cocky Kurwenal says:

            Exactly what I thought of her Donna Anna, Monty.

          • MontyNostry says:

            Cocky, several times last night I thought that the role needed a singer who would also be a seriously good Donna Anna.

          • MontyNostry says:

            It doesn’t help that Ciofi’s apperance and manner frequently reminded me of the diminutive Esme Cannon, a fixture of British comedy films of the 1950s and 60s (Carry On’s etc …)

            http://www.flickr.com/photos/hytam/3185878905/

          • oedipe says:

            A general question: why is it OK around here to comment negatively on singers’ being “diminutive”, or “too thin”, but it’s not OK to mention singers’ being grossly overweight? This reeks of a double standard. (To wit: on average, Latins tend to be shorter and thinner, Anglo-Saxons tend to be taller and fatter.)

      • grimoaldo says:

        Yes, thank you for this early and interesting report.
        Of course, ideally this and every opera would be presented in good productions with excellent musicians and good soloists, but this particular opera, Robert le Diable, HAS to have (in my opinion)three things to make it work -
        interesting visuals
        a charismatic Bertram
        and a good conductor

        Otherwise it will turn into a long and tiresome mishmash.
        Maybe it succeeds with the interesting visuals but it sounds like it doesn’t get there with the other two.

        • MontyNostry says:

          I thought the visuals were the weakest part of the production. They reference (seemingly randomly) iluminated manuscripts, 19th century engravings, modern interior design and occasionally use ‘skeleton’ structures too (eg the cathedral in the last act). All over the place and with no dramatic resonance. The characters just gesture and don’t relate to each other (rarely touching, for instance). This feels less like a conscious decision than a lack of knowing what to do.
          By the way, if Jennifer Rowley’s voice was considered too ‘dramatic’ for Isabelle, then Ciofi’s is too soft-grained and lyrical for the part. Some of it (especially earlier on) seems to presuppose an heroic gleam in the voice. I can see exactly why June Anderson was cast in Paris in the 80s.

    • PushedUpMezzo says:

      Independent review just in. Selected quotes:

      the principals have clearly been told to camp things up, and to hell with the fact that this work was once thought meaningful.

      a bunch of carousing knights straight out of a D’Oyly Carte production: this is G&S without the jokes, but drilled in joke-choreography.

      It says much for Bryan Hymel, Patrizia Ciofi, John Relyea as Bertram, and Marina Poplavskaya as the virtuous Alice, that these fine singers should so transcend this perverse production that their arias, duets, and trios – abetted by Daniel Oren’s conducting -- make a resonant evening.

      Full review

      http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/reviews/robert-le-diable-royal-opera-house-london-8392687.html

  • MontyNostry says:

    I agree with most of that, apart from including Oren among the positives. His conducting was lamentably flabby. Having seen several Pelly productions now, both live and on video, I think he should leave anything even vaguely serious well alone. His Cendrillon was just as vapid in its way.

    • Cocky Kurwenal says:

      Agreed. I really enjoy his Offenbach, but even in Fille he pays far too much attention to p*ssing about and leaves no room around what should be moments of pathos to allow them to have their due impact. Absolutely sick to death of his productions.

      • MontyNostry says:

        … and they aren’t even especially well executed technically. There is an awful lot of vamping till ready in the blocking and there was a whole key sequence last night where you could hardly see Bertram’s face.

    • PushedUpMezzo says:

      Agree to some extent re the Fille and Offenbach productions; but Cendrillon gave romantic and comic equal dues. The love scenes with Coote and Di Donato were beautifully handled and very moving. So fabulous I made a second visit and bought the DVD.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor says:


    Sort of looks like a college musical:

  • manou says:

    More diablerie. Here is The Times’ review (emphasis mine), with the usual apology about the length of the post :

    ……………….
    “Richard Morrison
    ** (out of 5)

    Chopin, no less, declared that “Meyerbeer has made himself immortal” after the sensational 1831 premiere of Robert le diable. Which only proves that composers make even worse prophets than critics do.
    Colossally rich and famous in his heyday, Giacomo Meyerbeer was to be virtually unperformed in the 20th century (partly, admittedly, because of Wagner’s anti-Semitic rants against him). As for the more dithering than devilish Robert, he last stalked Covent Garden’s stage 122 years ago. After seeing Laurent Pelly’s new production I would happily pack him off for another 122.
    Mixing costumes from the 11th and 19th centuries with merry abandon, Pelly piles kitsch on kitsch with his usual spray-can Gallic exuberance. The colour-coded countesses and matching toy horses in the joust are possibly the naffest things I’ve ever seen at the Royal Opera.
    But at least he and his designer, Chantal Thomas, grasp that what made Robert le diable such a succès de scandale was not Meyerbeer’s music. That veers from the banal to the ridiculous in a four-hour swirl of trembling strings, baleful brass and the sort of harmonies that announce villains in Victorian melodramas. Nor was it the preposterous plot, loosely based on a mediaeval legend that William the Conqueror’s dad was the Devil’s son.
    No, it was the spectacle and the sex. And Pelly supplies plenty of both, albeit with flippant Post-Modern twists. Knights in armour fly in on wires. A mountain range revolves. Robert’s beatific sister Alice arrives to save him on a white cloud. Hell is a mash of Dante and Disney: a lurid cartoon of flames and fiends, skewering naked sinners.
    And for the infamous ballet, where dead nuns rise from their convent graveyard to seduce Robert, Lionel Hoche, the choreographer, supplies a twitching bump’n’grind routine for zombies in see-through nighties.
    All of which is weird but welcome, because musical delights are few. The score mostly sounds like Rossini on a very off day, orchestrated by a Belgian military bandmaster. No wonder the Royal Opera had such trouble casting it. But with solid conducting from Daniel Oren the singers do well — especially Patrizia Ciofi, an 11th-hour replacement as Robert’s desired Isabelle. She sounds a bit husky, yet her impassioned singing brings the final acts to life.
    Marina Poplavskaya’s intonation varies, but she makes a touching Alice. Bryan Hymel tackles the fearsomely high title-role resolutely.
    John Relyea is properly barrel-voiced as the bad and finally ostracised Bertram (who, Pelly mischievously suggests, might be Meyerbeer himself), and Jean-François Borras sings winningly as the peasant Raimbaut.
    Meyerbeer’s doomladen choruses are splendidly hurled out. But at the finale’s dramatic climax the audience giggles. That says it all.”
    ……………………………….
    and here are a few random ones as well :

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/dec/07/robert-le-diable-review

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-07/female-caesar-funny-robert-bodyguard-u-k-theater.html

    http://www.whatsonstage.com/reviews/theatre/opera/E8831354885463/Robert+le+diable.html

    http://www.theartsdesk.com/opera/robert-le-diable-royal-opera-house

    • MontyNostry says:

      The more I think about it, the more I think Pelly’s production was a cop-out, and not even an intelligent send-up of the piece, which could have been presented ‘au deuxième degré ‘ in a more insightful way that respected the audience’s powers of perception. And why is Ciofi being seen as such a heroine? Yes, she got through the part, but it was all rather uncomfortable.

    • grimoaldo says:

      Thanks for posting the reviews manou.
      The singing has been generally praised, opinion on the production and opera itself mixed.
      Here is an article from 1988 from the NYT “Does Meyerbeer Deserve His Years of Obscurity?” in which Samuel Ramey succinctly puts the truth, as I see it,on the quality of the music of Robert: ” There are great moments; although most of ‘Robert’ is not great music, a lot is fun music.”
      I do not have anything against fun music, in fact I like fun music.
      Of course, peoples’ idea of fun varies.
      Another interesting point of view from this article from Eve Queler:
      “It is not adventurous to do ‘Lulu.’ It would be adventurous to do ‘Robert.’”
      Whatever the results of the ROH production (and when it appears online or on DVD, I fear it is going to make me break my resolution never to listen to or watch Popsy again), I applaud Covent Garden adventurousness in mounting a production of the work.

      • MontyNostry says:

        My feeling on the music of Robert is that it is less than the sum of its part. There are some daring and clever ideas (for instance, vocal line accompanied solely by timpani) and plenty of ‘dramatic’ gesturing (especially in the coloratura flourishes and big high notes coming from nowhere), but they don’t add up to anything very compelling. In fact, there is no sense of compulsion in the music. It seems an exercise rather than an outpouring.

        • MontyNostry says:

          This is the only number that has any emotional impact (and clearly Verdi thought so too …)

      • kashania says:

        Meyebeer Pastiche?

        The only operas of his with which I’m familiar are Huguenots and L’Africaine. But I think that Ramey’s sentiments about Robert can apply to Meyerbeer in general (though Huguenots has a particularly high quotient of great moments). So, I think the best way for the Met to get in on the Meyerbeer action is to do a pastiche. Take the best parts of his operas and put them together in a big, flashy spectacle.

        • MontyNostry says:

          Le Continent enchanté? (Those five acts need a lot of space)

          • kashania says:

            LOL. Someone call Zeffirelli. On second thought, never mind!

          • MontyNostry says:

            I’m sure Francesca Zambello would be pleased to oblige with some of her pseudo-Zeffirelli if needed. Cheeky moppets, patient animals, ‘local colour’ … You know the kind of thing.

  • Camille says:

    Hi C’s A Plenty — this is a notice for you regarding the “Mario Aria” from Robert le Diable:

    First off, I must say I am sorry for getting to this almost a week later than I should have.

    Secondly, the edition of Robert le Diable which I own is G. Brandus, Dufour & Cie., which would mark it out as having been published between 1854 and 1858, the years the company was known by this name. M. Dufour became a full partner in 1858.

    The “Mario Aria” is in the “Supplément” at the edition’s end. It reads:
    “Scène et Prière, Composées pour les débuts de M. Mario”……..[p.] 426.

    It consists of five pages, the first two are Récitatif which lead promptly onto the Prière, itself, at top of page 428. The tessitura is of midrange, with a B double flat in the récitatif, and about three A naturals, culminating with a cadenza at the finale with a B flat corona. It has nothing of the nature of the Sicilienne, with its several high C’s in alt (there are variants for those C’s, by the way) — but since you have those C’s “A Plenty”, doubtless, they hold no terrors for you!

    If you would like, and if you can manage to get an address, via La Cieca, to me — I would be only to happy to make a copy of this material for you. Please, please, it is not a big deal and I would be happy to share, so no profuse undying gratitude need be necessary.

    Yours truly,
    in fede
    Camille