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Prokofiev: The Fiery Angel (DVD)

Aušrinė Stundytė, Bo Skovhus et al; Arnold Schoenberg Choir; ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Constantin Trinks (Unitel / DVD)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Prokofiev
The Fiery Angel (DVD)
Aušrinė Stundytė, Bo Skovhus, Natascha Petrinsky, Elena Zaremba, Nikolai Schukoff; Arnold Schoenberg Choir; ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Constantin Trinks; dir. Andrea Breth (Vienna, 2021)
Unitel DVD: 805908; Blu-ray: 806004   124 mins

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Ruprecht, a wandering knight (originally in 16th-century Germany), gets involved with Renata, a troubled young woman possibly possessed by demons. Mostly composed in the 1920s but never completed to his own satisfaction, Prokofiev’s opera is based on a symbolist novel (by fellow Russian Valery Bryusov) – so its symbolic treatment here is perhaps appropriate.

The entire action is relocated to what the booklet note calls a ‘a modern psychiatric ward’ – a nightmarish institution equipped with the most basic hospital equipment, iron bedsteads and manual typewriters. Far from complementing Prokofiev’s colourful score (well realised by the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra under Constantin Trinks), the design is all greys, off-whites and black.

Both main characters are inmates, which instantly gives a strong slant to everything they say and believe. Ruprecht is no longer an ordinary if worldly adventurer swept up by Renata’s allure and predicament: Bo Skovhus does his best, but inevitably gives something of a one-note performance, looking bewildered and a touch unhinged throughout. He and Aušrinė Stundytė (Renata) are gifted just one insightful scene: when Renata demands that Ruprecht kills her Angel, then has an apparent change of heart, she is not just being capricious but is evidently suffering that awful emotional ambivalence anyone who has been through a traumatic breakup will recognise. Too often, though, the production rides roughshod over the story, not least in conflating characters for no better reason than they share a voice type: for instance, Agrippa and Mephistopheles in this production are presented as the same character – here, a disingenuous, sadistic doctor (sung with relish by Nikolai Schukoff). How that enhances the drama is anyone’s guess.

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Daniel Jaffé