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Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable & the Ballet of the Nuns

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Some operas resonate in the sub-conscience of ballet fans more than others and Meyerbeer’s ‘Robert le Diable’ has the distinction of launching the Romantic Ballet movement when Taglioni first danced the lead in the famous Ballet of the Nuns. Robert, the leading character, visits a haunted ruined abbey once notorious for the depravity of the inmates and the nuns rise from their tombs to seduce him.

What the ballet looked like back then I’m not sure, here’s how it looked to Degas, but long enough after the premiere to have changed.


This is probably earlier as the decor of the Opera in this picture isn’t the same as the Garnier interior of today.


What I saw last night was more Shaun of the Dead than memories of Taglioni as the nuns lurched Zombie-like around the stage before joining the chorus in a mass orgy.

According to the programme it was the 74th production of this opera at Covent Garden but it hasn’t actually been seen there since the 19th century. Fashions in music change I suppose, though as Meyerbeer epitomized the concept of ‘Grand Opera’ it’s a pity his works are so rarely performed. Actually there was a great deal of back-stage drama before the opening night, when a change of soprano had to be made in a hurry as the original choice proved unsuitable. As few have ever sung the role of Isabelle. the ROH was very lucky that Patrizia Ciofi was available at such short notice, sang brilliantly and was rewarded at the end with the lions share of the evening’s applause even though the rest of the cast was also pretty fantastic.

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Thank you! I loved that. The magic branch by the way is like Faust's pact with the devil, if Robert accepts it he gets unlimited power and immortality. In the opera he accepts the branch but then breaks it taking him back to square one with his father (a demon) and his foster sister, armed with a letter from his mother, fighting for his soul in a final face off.

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There is an opera site that always has a quiz using pics from recent opera productions and asking readers to submit their ideas for what opera is being shown in the pics. It is almost always impossible to tell. It is sort of funny but sort of sad. But that is opera in 2012.....so this zombie nuns thing does not surprise me!!!

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