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Robert Le Diable

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My copy of Lincoln Kirsteins "Movement and Metaphor" is at the office and I am having trouble finding information on the internet. I remember reading that there was a ballet given the year before "Giselle" which sparked the idea for the dance of ghosts or wilis.

In Robert Le Diable there was a dance of the nuns who were women risen from the grave at night.

Is this near correct?

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Very near :unsure: I think it was a year before "La Sylphide," though. "The Ballet of the Nuns" starred Maria Taglioni.

Glebb, I think Knud Arne Jurgensen has a book (a cheaper one!) on this, too, with notation reconstruction by Anne Hutchinson Guest. RG has been studying Robert le Diable and I'm sure will correct me if I'm wrong. And I hope add other info!

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Glebb, Robert Le Diable is an 1831 opera by one of our old favorite composers, Meyerbeer.

And yes, one of the later scenes of the opera is a "Ballet of the Dead Nuns" danced at one time by Taglioni. There's just this annoying tenor who won't go away and a chorus offstage.... Apparently, it stayed pretty popular, as Degas painted a whirling impression of a dancer in it, which reminds me something of Herb Migdoll's photos.

It is recorded. Try Amazon.

And then there is the gloriously incompetent "The Dying Nun" from the musical Nunsense....

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OMG, five acts!

Very cool! What follows is from the synopsis provided by the Meyerbeer Fan Club.

Act III, Scene II - The tombs of the convent at Saint Rosalie

What follows is one of the most effective and haunting scenes in all of opera. This is the burial place of nuns who have offended heaven with impure thoughts.

Bertram summons up the sinful dead nuns ("Nonnes qui repose") commanding them to action. They rise from their tombs, at first slowly, and then work themselves into a frenzy, shedding their habits and dancing a bacchanal. They attempt to seduce Robert. Under their spell and guided by the the mistress Helene he steals the magic cypress branch, and makes himself disappear. The nuns sink back into their tombs.

Thanks Alexandra and Mel. I look forward to reading RGs comments.

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Glebb, if you have a good video store in your area, you might be able to get hold of the 1953 film Melba, directed by Lewis Milestone. It features a reconstruction of the Robert le diable ballet at one point, but in a wildly inappropriate de Basilish style. No less inappropriate was the Andre Prokovsky staging of the ballet in the most recent revival of the opera at the Palais Garnier. I have an audiotape of that performance, and was curious to know why the audience booed the ballet. Knud Arne Ju:rgensen enlightened me in a letter: AP had reconceived it as a Lesbian orgy! This might well have appealed to the ballerina Pauline Montessu (who attended such events in Paris during the 1830s), but it would have shocked the decorous Taglioni to the core! The ballet, as Scribe, Filippo Taglioni and Meyerbeer devised it, comprises a series of temptations (tentations) which I should be able to reel off to you. However, I have forgotten the sequence, and don't have the score at hand to jog my memory. One is definitely gambling (tentation par le jeu)--that's the melody I like best, a sort of languorous tyrolienne or Laendler if I'm not mistaken--and another is la tentation par l'amour. Unless I am much mistaken, it gave Taglioni her big moment.

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PS. Glebb, I have just remembered the third, and I think the last temptation--for rituals always favour triads. It's la tentation par le vin. So I think I can now confidently tell you that the ballet comprises:

1) An invocation and processional, a kind of stop-and-start marche funebre

2) La tentations par le vin

3) et par le jeu

4) et par l'amour

and finally

5) Bacchanale. If you get to hear the music, listen closely to the cadence, for I seem to remember that Adam borrowed it, or created something very similar, for the cadence to the Waltz of the Wilis. There it's an interrupted cadence (Dflat to G flat, or the flattened mediant) followed by the "legitimate" cadence of B flat to E flat. If the bacchanale ends in A major, and I think it does, there should be an interrupted cadence on C. But I am simply guessing at this point. Forgive my slow response. I turned fifty last year, and my once excellent memory is letting me down as my brain cells die off in droves!

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Hans, thanks for the reassurance. I had pictures of a brain littered with cellular corpses, rather like the Civil War reconstructions that Mel Johnson has mentioned here. How does one strengthen synapses? I know old people are meant to do cross word puzzles, but they have never attracted me. Perhaps I should give myself daily quizzes. I remember how, after I hit the windscreen in a traffic accident during 1976, I sat on the pavement and asked myself who choreographed, designed, wrote the music for The Firebird, and when it was first staged. When I found I could answer all the questions, I felt reassured that I hadn't damaged my brain. My friends thought this hilarious, and entirely typical of me!

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alexandra is good to think i'm studying this work. i am more than a LITTLE obsessed with it, but not so thoroughly informed as to qualify as studying it.

certainly knud-arne j. is THE scholar, having even reconstructed from some bournonville notes (if mem. serves) some of the taglioni and after choreog.

i have 3 recordings of the opera. the one mentioned here from paris isn't out but another one, which i think had choreograhy by lacotte was also booed, the catcalls are heard loudly and clearly on the discs of a live recording in paris, 2 jul 1985.

my other recording is 'roberto il diavolo' from firenzie 1968, on myto label.

the most recent recording, on dynamic, includes what i think is the complete ballet sequence (it seems to match what rodney has posted here - still i cannot say for certain, i don't have a score and don't read music in any case: knud-arne j. would know for certain.)

re: degas i know of 2 canvases showing what i take to be the transition from the procession of the nuns into the dance suite. there are also at least 3 oil sketches of the same which i'm aware of - all 5 works were luckily in the recent 'degas and the dance' exhibit as was at least one stage maquette, much to my delight. the reason these moments must be before the suite proper is that the nuns are still in their habits but as knud-arne j. has shown the dancing sections were performed w/ the nuns in ballet skirts, a la sylphs and/or wilis. in one of the oil sketches it seems clear to me that degas' accurate eye indicated the 'bulk' of the startched ballet skirt under the nuns' habits which fall less than directly to the hem.

re: knud-arne j. he published an entire monograph on the subject, as follows:

Robert le diable : the ballet of the nuns / ballet by Filippo Taglioni, notated by August Bournonville ; music by Giacomo Meyerbeer ; reconstructed by Knud Arne Jürgensen ; Labanotation and performance notes by Ann Hutchinson Guest.

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R S Edgecombe, dancing helps keep the synapses in working order :). There's a wonderful little comic I saw somewhere of a woman dancing with a man while filling in a crossword puzzle over his shoulder to keep Alzheimer's at bay.

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Hans, I still do a ricketty class some days of the week, clutching on to my friend's clothes horse in her back garden while I wait for her to leash up the dogs --this before our daily walks with those utterly beguiling animals. So it seems I'm doing the right thing, though class has always been an autopilot enterprise for me. Speaking of which, I was going to make a separate post, but might as well put it in here. I bought a book of ballet class music yesterday at a second-hand shop--a very nice one assembled by Agda Skjerne, and published by Hansen of Copenhagen. It includes two waltzes for Talon a [accent grave] main jambe tendue, and I haven't the faintest idea what that means. I know the signification of each French word, but I can't combine them into a coherent statement. In some forms of African dance the executant pats his heel with his hand, but I can't imagine that that is what is meant here. Any Bournonville fundis able to help?

RG, I have seen only one Degas account of the nun ballet--the unutterably lovely one in the Victoria and Albert. I used to dream over it for minutes on end at every visit. I asked Knud the identical question about tutus and habits. Another, more disturbing question has occurred to me since writing to him. I have seen a photograph of statuette that shows Taglioni in "opera sandals" rather than pointe shoes. Odd, if you bear in mind the fact that the ballet inspired Adolphe Nourrit, who was singing Robert, to sketch the scenario for La Sylphide.

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Talon a la main, jambe tendue is a stretch in which the heel is placed in the hand in order to pull the leg upward and stretch the hip joint. I have never heard it phrased quite that way before, so it threw me as well, at first.

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Thanks so much, Hans. That comma makes all the difference--and the realization that the heel is definitely in the hand. I'm surprised that stretches are formalized to music in the Danish class. In SA--or at least in those I have watched or participated in--they tend to be done informally, in the interstices of the barre, or in the break before centre work.

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without any intent to derail this fascinatingly informative discussion :wink: , when i saw this:

...the burial place of nuns who have offended heaven with impure thoughts. Bertram summons up the sinful dead nuns ("Nonnes qui repose") commanding them to action. They rise from their tombs, at first slowly, and then work themselves into a frenzy, shedding their habits and dancing a bacchanal. They attempt to seduce Robert...
i couldn't help thinking that i'm surprised i haven't seen THAT version of giselle, yet - THAT would shake things up a bit! (sorry, alexandra :devil: )
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Grace, I think the seduction was probably less graphic than that synopsis implies! I know because I have egg on my face in this regard. The last movement of Ashton's Les Rendezvous, which is based on the ballet in Auber's L'Enfant prodigue (1850), is labelled "orgie" in the piano score the librarian at Covent Garden kindly photocopied for me. Without checking my French dictionary, I treated it as an orgy in an article that I subsequently wrote on ballet music. Imagine my embarrassment when, a few months later, I was sight-reading Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots, and found the Act I brindisi is actually labelled "orgie" in the score, and there isn't a woman on stage at that point! I am sure the readers of my article must have thought I have a very dirty mind!

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