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Royal Opera House makes a drama out of an opera with last minute replacement of leading lady with Patrizia Ciofi


It was always going to be a drama when the Royal Opera House staged its first production in more than 120 years of Robert le diable, Giacomo Meyerbeer’s epic opera.

However, in addition to having a cast of 90 to contend with, the director Laurent Pelly decided to swap his leading lady at just three days’ notice. Italian soprano Patrizia Ciofi arrived in London from Paris on Monday to take over from American Jennifer Rowley after it was “mutually agreed” that the role of Princess Isabelle “would not be the right part for her debut at Covent Garden”.

“The singer [Rowley] was not the ideal voice for the role,” Pelly admitted. But it was a relief when Ciofi proved to be available, being one of the only singers in the world to have performed Princess Isabelle both on stage and, more recently, in concert. “She knew the role – but she is unique,” Pelly said. “I’m so happy to have Patrizia Ciofi. I think she is perfect.”

Rowley, who will return to London for Puccini’s La bohème in 2015, was herself recruited in the summer after the original Isabelle, German soprano Diana Damrau, could no longer fulfil the role because she was pregnant.

Robert le diable, first performed in 1831, is a romance of knights and princesses with a backdrop of medieval France and a supernatural element.