Robert Le Diable

In five acts by MEYERBEER.


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 t
e 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 love.

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

and goodness.