Vladivostok, Primorsky Stage, Great Hall

The Fiery Angel

Opera in five acts (concert performance)

Performed in Russian (the performance will have synchronised Russian and English supertitles)
PREMIERE

Performers

Conductor:

Valery Gergiev

Ruprecht: Yevgeny Nikitin
Renata: Elena Stikhina
The Sorceress: Anna Kiknadze
Agrippa of Nettesheim: Andrei Popov
Faust: Ilya Bannik
Méphistophélès: Andrei Popov
The Inquisitor: Mikhail Petrenko

Credits

Music by Sergei Prokofiev
Libretto by the composer, after the historical novel by Valery Briusov

Musical Preparation: Marina Mishuk
Concertmaster: Oxana Klevtsova

SYNOPSIS

The action takes place in Cologne or nearby in the early 16th century.

Act 1

Returned to Europe from America, Ruprecht, a knight, stays at a shabby inn in Germany. He hears some woman squealing in the next room, she is tortured by visions. When Ruprecht comes to help her, she – her name is Renata – suddenly calls the knight by name and tells him her story. Since her childhood, a fiery angel, Madiel, has appeared to her, and she has been in love with him. When grown up, she finally asked for his physical love. Madiel, in response, glowed in fury, but agreed to return in human form and later Renata met Count Heinrich. The count took her off to his castle where they were happy. One morning Heinrich left unexpectedly and failed to return. The forsaken young woman has been in search for her love for many days, and demons chase her. The innkeeper tells Ruprecht that her strange lodger passes for a witch and brings along a soothsayer who foretells Renata’s horrible future.

Act 2

Ruprecht follows Renata in search for the count. He soon falls in love with her and swears to serve her faithfully. However, she steeps herself in demonological discourses and can only think how she could return her beloved, whether Heinrich or Madiel. In the room where they stay, the mystic knocks are heard at the door; thus the demons say that Heinrich is on the threshold, but no one comes in. Jacob Glock, a bookseller, arranges a meeting with the famous philosopher and powerful sorcerer Agrippa von Nettesheim whom Ruprecht queries about secrets of magic.

Act 3

In front of Count Heinrich’s house Renata pleads with him vainly to let her in. She sees Ruprecht returning from Agrippa’s lair and, greatly affronted, begs to be avenged and demands that the knight challenge and kill Count Heinrich. When she sees Heinrich on his balcony, she believes again that he is the fiery angel and tells Ruprecht not to attack him. So, the duel is one-sided, as Heinrich easily overcomes Ruprecht and injures him heavily. Raving in fever, Ruprecht seems to hear the laugh of the red men with whom he fought in America.

Act 4

When Ruprecht recovers, Renata says that their relationship must be broken off and insists on her joining a convent to better herself and for her soul’s sake. Ruprecht goes to a tavern to drown his grief in wine and meets Faust and a friend of his, Mephistopheles. They are travelling over Europe and invite Ruprecht to join them.

Act 5

An Inquisitor comes to the convent to drive out the demons, with whom the nuns have been possessed since Renata’s arrival. During the rite of exorcism the bacchanalia starts. Some nuns call Renata a saint, the others almost get the Inquisitor ripped apart for he is a Satan’s minion. Mephistopheles takes Ruprecht to the convent to show him what has happened to Renata. She is condemned by the Inquisitor to be burned at the stake.

ABOUT THE PRODUCTION

The Fiery Angel, which occupied Sergei Prokofiev’s mind from 1919 to 1927, was a turning point in his operatic search. After his mischievous opera The Love for Three Oranges, the composer was fascinated with Valery Briusov’s historical novel of an earthborn woman’s tragic affections towards a heavenly angel. The gist of the novel, in which medieval mysticism and real fagoting stories are interlaced with the author’s intimate thoughts and autobiographic motives, reveals itself in the penultimate sentence: “To cross that sacred edge that divides our world from the dark sphere in which float spirits and demons”. Seeking inspiration, Sergei Prokofiev left for the locale of the novel, Germany, and, inter alia, visited Oberammergau where the traditional Passion Play had been performed from the 17th century.

Turning to the eternal philosophic themes of love, life and death or to the problem of origin of universal evil or relationship between good and evil or to the contest of sanctity and peccancy for human souls, Sergei Prokofiev does not tend to unambiguous conclusions. In The Fiery Angel, the positive and the negative or the real and the unreal cannot be divorced from each other and have to co-exist, gliding into each other. The heroine, Renata, ecstatically loves Madiel, and this love makes her impassible enough to send her faithful knight, Ruprecht, to his doom. However, starting with Ruprecht’s carnal infatuation, his sentiment towards Renata turns into his sacrificial serving in love, leading him to his spiritual transformation. Longing for their unattainable ideals, the hero and heroine come along their Gothic Via Dolorosa where passion is misery. The other characters are images of Renata’s fate and, at the same time, intermediates between her and the beyond. All of them are freely spelled and usually appear in the culmination point of each act: the Soothsayer in Act 1, Jacob Glock and Agrippa in Act 2, Heinrich in Act 3, Faust and Mephistopheles in Act 4, and the Inquisitor in Act 5.

Plunged into the Dark Ages spiritually but not literally, Sergei Prokofiev has banished all thoughts of archaizing his music. The pliably embossed recitatives elicit a complicated variety of characters’ emotions. The driving elemental strife is primarily concentrated in the orchestra which is instrumental in musical dramaturgy of The Fiery Angel. Renata’s obsession with the fixed idea puts us in mind of Electra and Salome, heroines of Richard Strauss’s expressionistic operas. Renata’s mystic ecstasies and the ensuing visions need being expressed by media which are adequately effective in terms of their impact. In actual fact, Sergei Prokofiev establishes new orchestral acoustics which surpass all pre-existing ones and allow the orchestra to reach the frontiers of sounding. One of the most important orchestral functions is to outline the subconscious with multi-vocally symbolic leitmotifs. These leitmotifs become elements of orchestral performance and form, together with those of stage performance, two semantic fields which are generally independent but particularly overlapping. In the purely orchestral episodes, the development shifts to a metaphysical level.  

The opera was highly esteemed by Sergei Prokofiev himself, and this is proved both by his eight-year work on its score and by the fact that the composer wrote a symphony based on his music for The Fiery Angel after all attempts to stage the opera had failed. The doom of the opera may be easily associated with the then hardly possible presentation of its religious and mystic contents on the stage. Sergei Prokofiev’s original score was first performed in full under the baton of maestro Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky Theatre in 1991.

Nadezhda Kulygina


World premiere:
25 November 1954 – Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris (concert performance in French)
15 September 1955 – Teatro La Fenice, Venice (performed in Italian, translated by Mario Nordio)

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes
The concert has one interval

Age category 6+

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