Prokofiev: The Fiery Angel

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Arthaus
ALBUM TITLE: Prokofiev
WORKS: The Fiery Angel
PERFORMER: Galina Gorchakova, Sergei Leiferkus; Kirov Opera Chorus & Orchestra/ Valery Gergiev; dir. David Freeman (Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, 1993)
While British interest in the naked-zoo aspect of David Freeman’s productions had reached saturation point by the early Nineties, for Russians this was something completely new, and the Kirov premiere of Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel quickly became a symbol of the new freedoms. Freeman’s basic idea is limiting but effective: while Prokofiev and to an even greater degree the Bryusov novel on which he based his Twenties horror leave open the question of demonic possession in Renaissance Cologne, and whether heroine Renata’s angel comes from heaven or from hell, here we see a group of chalky-white demon-acrobats who surround and interfere in the human action from the start. That makes for some strikingly lit stage compositions, but as so often in filmed opera, the close-ups do the narrative few favours; these dog-like succubi are best seen from a distance, and as the chaos reaches its zenith in a convent-mayhem scene which would have been unthinkable without Ken Russell’s The Devils, salacious detail removes the focus from Renata’s catalytic role.


Even so, Galina Gorchakova compels throughout on her lacerating journey from troubled beauty – think a plumper Nigella with neuroses – to bald Antichrist. Her acting compensates for a lack of tonal variety in the truly heroic, gold-capped soprano voice we used to hear so often. Sergei Leiferkus looks good, too, as her much put-upon knight, but is seen at close quarters seeking many a cue from Gergiev, a trenchant guide through this chattery, furious-paced score. The smaller character-studies and the chorus all help to bring to life the world of Bosch and Brueghel; the flame-ringed DVD index is sadly altogether less artistic. David Nice