Giacomo Meyerbeer: Robert le Diable
John Osborn (Robert), Nicolas Courjal (Bertram), Amina Edris (Alice), Erin Morley (Isabelle), Nico Darmanin (Raimbaut), Joel Allison (Alberti), Paco Garcia (a herald of arms), Marjolaine Horreaux (first corypheus), Lena Orye (second corypheus), Olivier Bekretaoui (knight), Jean-Philippe Fourcade (knight and first player), Simon Solas (knight and second player), Luc Seignette (knight and third player), Chœur de l’Opéra National de Bordeaux, Salvatore Caputo (chorus master), Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine, Marc Minkowski (conductor)
Recording: l’Auditorium de l’Opéra National de Bordeaux, France (September 20-27, 2021) – 217’08
3 CDs Bru Zane 1049 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Book in French and English
Likely best known for Les Huguenots (1836), Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable (1831) could be regarded as his “magnanimous awakening”, taking into account use of all art forms, thereby culminating into a complete spectacle. So resounding a success, after the premiere on November 21, 1831, Robert le Diable had an enviable record of 754 performances at the Paris Opéra alone for 62 years. Shifting, however, two centuries later, Robert has less than a dozen recordings under its belt, primarily due to the expenses in executing the work as well as finding a cadre of stellar voices.
Laurent Pelly’s colorfully plastic vision took to the stage in Covent Garden back in 2012 with an
Opus Arte release soon to follow. Rennes-born Nicolas Courjal, not new to Robert, sang Alberti back then, but in 2019 in Brussels he took charge of Bertram. Though M. Courjal’s bass resonances are a tad lighter, he conjures a diplomatically sinister character, while never ‘overplaying his hand’. This demanding character requires restraint while evincing enough demonic equations, similar to what we experience in David’s Herculanum. Nicolas Courjal achieves everything in Robert.
We experience the resplendent qualities of a chanteuse falcon inside Amina Edris’ Alice. Egyptian-born and raised in New Zealand, this young soprano is nothing short of being one of the most luxuriant voices to hit the operatic world. While Alice presents many treacherous reaches and tricky maneuvers, Mlle Edris’ vocal output is, flawless. As a complement, Maltese Nico Darmanin sings like a resolute troubadour, emitting rays of clarion polish in his rendition of Raimbaut.
Having carved out a successful niche for himself with emphasis on singing bel canto, and, in particular, Rossini, the ability to slip into the shoes of Robert is an irresistibly smooth fit for John Osborn. This Iowa tenor never yields any uncertainty towards Meyerbeer’s music and his balance and blending with the other principals is stunning and sparkling. His rendition of the “Prière et Marche”, in particular, reveals his flexibility in the voice. The opening section is soft, polished and endearing, exemplifying unblemished purity. When turning to the closing “March”, we hear M. Osborn’s long sustained lines and marvelously crystalline output...so much so that he reaches and sustains a high C-Sharp when hitting the word, “vainqueur”. This gentleman is unstoppable.
Erin Morley has created her own fabulous career as well. Early on, she sang minor roles such as Echo in Ariadne auf Naxos in 2010. Then there’s Olympia from Les Contes d’Hoffmann (2015), Cunégonde in Candide (2018) and even Sister Constance from Dialogues des carmélites (2019). Interestingly, in the role of Isabelle, her soprano voice has darkened slightly, bringing with it a more seasoned sophistication. By now singing in Robert le Diable demonstrates her judicious selection of roles, especially since Meyerbeer’s Princess of Sicily is riddled with juicy challenges vocally-wise. Her “Récit et Air” reveals majestically sharp grace notes, followed by pliably splendid melismas. Her emotions are well-revealed through the tone in her voice...for example, the “Cavatina” in Act IV gives the listener a message of caring, sensitivity and delicateness.
Marc Minkowski has an innate sense of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s music. While truncated in form, Bru Zane chooses to print the omitted passages. In most cases ballet in grand opéra doesn’t specifically move the plot along; however, in Robert le Diable this isn’t the case. What’s interesting is the way in which M. Minkowski chooses to vary the tempo of the dance music...it works beautifully and presents great imagery: the “Seduction through gambling” is super brisk and crisp while the ensuing “Seduction by Love” gives the solo cello a graceful chance to shine, not overly-rushed, yet polite and reflective.
While it’s rare to garner five strong, flexible and compliant voices for the challenges of Robert le Diable, Marc Minkowski and his team at Bru Zane have achieved superior results.
Fabulous from beginning to end.