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PROKOFIEV. The Fiery Angel. Opera in five acts and seven scenes. Soloists, Kirov Chorus and orchestra/Valery Gergiev. Philips Video Classics 070 198-3. [120 mins]



The problem with opera, or any music on video is that the producer is your eyes and often when you want to see what happens in a particular area of a scene the camera is pointing elsewhere. I remember a televised concert conducted by Simon Rattle. I was keen to see how the strings played a particular passage and we were shown a kaleidoscopic set of revolving colours instead that had nothing to do with the music. And then there is music in cathedrals; you want to see how a soloist manages a difficult passage and the cameraman shows you a vaulted ceiling or a statue.

This opera tells of Renata a young woman who alleges that when she was eight a beautiful angel first appeared to her and when she had reached puberty she was in love with him. Telling him of her sexual desires, he left her. She believes that he reappeared as a mortal, Count Heinrich. After about a year he too disappears and she vows to find him. She tells her story to Ruprecht, a rather scruffy knight, who believes she is crazed and she admits that she is tormented by demons, cleverly portrayed here by male members of the St. Petersburg Marinsky Acrobatic Troupe in a ghastly grey colour. Renata constantly changes her mind and when she finds Heinrich she persuades Ruprecht to challenge him to a duel which he does and is not only wounded for his trouble but also scolded by Renata for attacking him. Renata eventually enters a convent and takes the demons with her. The inquisitor is called to exorcise the demons but fails, and the last scene is of an orgy where the nuns are stripped naked. Renata is blamed and pays the ultimate penalty.

The recorded sound was low on my copy and therefore the 'punchy' music was tame. The performance lacked tension even in the turbulent final scene. This opera is far better than this production but it does serve to give a good overview of this moral tale. The producer introducing nudity may secure a lot more sales but I wonder why producers have to change the composer's instructions and resort to such measures. Marketing is more important than the music, I guess.

The production is rather dark which, I suppose, suits the plot. There needed to be more interesting camera work in the opening scene which includes a long solo from Renata. Somehow, the horrors of the occult are not captured here.

The musical parts are well sung even the minor parts. Galina Gorchakov as Renata and Sergei Leiferkus as Ruprecht are good as is Vladimir Ognovenko as the Inquisitor. Konstantin Pluzhnikor as Mephistopheles is 'over the top' and not really diabolic enough.

On a personal point, I find subtitles very distracting. It is like going to a symphony concert and listening to Brahms and reading Agatha Christie at the same time. What a combination! It may be better to have a brief narration to each scene rather than the text on the screen.

As to the infamous last scene it would have been better to have the cameras sat in one place and be able to see all the action face on rather than the 101 different camera angles. But the producer does not want us to keep our seats but dictated what we see.

This is a fine opera but its greatness is not fully realised in this production.


David Wright


David Wright

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