Robert Le Diable
In five acts by MEYERBEER.
Text by SCRIBE and DELAVIGNE.
Though the text, which embodies the well-known story of Robert the
Devil, Duke of Normandy, is often weak and involved, Meyerbeer has
understood in masterly fashion how to adapt his music to it, infusing
into it dramatic strength and taking his hearer captive from beginning
to end. The instrumentation is brilliant, and the splendid parts for
the human voice deserve like praise. The famous Cavatina "Air of
grace", as it is called, where the bugle has such a fine part, and the
duet in the fourth act between Robert and the Princess Isabella, in
which the harp fairly rouses us to wonder whether we are not listening
to celestial music--are but two of the enchanting features of an opera
in which such passages abound.
The following are the contents of the libretto:
Robert, Duke of Normandy, has a friend of gloomy exterior, named
Bertram, with whom he travels, but to whose evil influence he owes much
trouble and sorrow. Without knowing it himself, Robert is the son of
this erring knight, who is an inhabitant of hell. During his
wanderings on earth he seduced Bertha, daughter of the Duke of
Normandy, whose offspring Robert is. This youth is very wild and
has therefore been banished from his country.
Arriving in Sicily, Isabella the King's daughter and he fall mutually
In the first act we find Robert in Palermo, surrounded by other
knights, to whom a young countryman of his, Raimbaut, tells the story
of "Robert le Diable" and his fiendish father; warning everybody
against them. Robert, giving his name, is about to deliver the unhappy
Raimbaut to the hangman, when the peasant is saved by his bride Alice,
Robert's foster-sister. She has come to Palermo by order of Robert's
deceased mother, who sends her last will to her son, in case he should
change his bad habits and prove himself worthy. Robert, feeling that
he is not likely to do this, begs Alice to keep it for him. He
confides in the innocent maiden, and she promises to reason with
Isabella, whom Robert has irritated by his jealousy, and who has
banished him from her presence.
As a recompense for her service Alice asks Robert's permission to marry
Raimbaut. Seeing Robert's friend, Bertram, she recognizes the latter's
likeness to Satan, whom she saw in a picture, and instinctively shrinks
from him. When she leaves her master, Bertram induces his friend to
try his fortune with the dice and he loses all.
In the second act we are introduced into the palace of Isabella, who
laments Robert's inconstancy. Alice enters bringing Robert's letter
and the latter instantly follows to crave his mistress' pardon.
She presents him with a new suit of armor, and he consents to meet the
Prince of Granada in mortal combat. But Bertram lures him away by
deceiving him with a phantom. Robert vainly seeks the Prince in the
forest, and the Prince of Granada is in his absence victorious in the
tournament and obtains Isabella's hand.
The third act opens with a view of the rocks of St. Irene, where Alice
hopes to be united with Raimbaut. The peasant expects his bride, but
meets Bertram instead, who makes him forget Alice, by giving him gold
and dangerous advice. Raimbaut goes away to spend the money, while
Bertram descends to the evil spirits in the deep. When Alice comes,
Raimbaut is gone, and she hears the demons calling for Bertram.
Bertram extracts a promise from her not to betray the dreadful secret
of the cavern. She clings to the Saviour's cross for protection, and
is about to be destroyed by Bertram, when Robert approaches, to whom
she decides to reveal all. But Bertram's renewed threats at last
oblige her to leave them.
Bertram now profits by Robert's rage and despair at the loss of his
bride, his wealth and his honor, to draw him on to entire destruction.
He tells Robert that his rival used magic arts, and suggests that he
should try the same expedient. Then he leads him to a ruined cloister,
where he resuscitates the guilty nuns. They try to seduce Robert first
by drink, then by gambling, and last of all by love. In the last,
Helena, the most beautiful of the nuns, succeeds and makes him
remove the cypress-branch, a talisman, by which in the fourth act he
enters Isabella's apartment unseen. He awakes his bride out of her
magic sleep, to carry her off, but overcome by her tears and her appeal
to his honor, he breaks the talisman, and is seized by the now awakened
soldiers; but Bertram appears, and takes him under his protection.
The fifth act opens with a chorus sung by monks, which is followed by a
prayer for mercy. Robert, concealed in the vestibule of the cathedral,
hears it full of contrition. But Bertram is with him, and, his term on
earth being short, he confides to Robert the secret of his birth and
appeals to him as his father.
He almost succeeds, when Alice comes up, bringing the news that the
Prince of Granada renounces Isabella's hand, being unable to pass the
threshold of the church. Bertram urges Robert all the more vehemently
to become one with him, suggesting that Isabella is likewise lost to
him, who has transgressed the laws of the church, when in the last
extremity Alice produces his mother's will, in which she warns him
against Bertram, entreating him to save his soul. Then at last his
good angel is victorious, his demon-father vanishes into the earth and
Robert, united by prayer to the others, is restored to a life of peace
Next: The King Has Said It