The Fiery Angel (DVD)
Leigh Melrose, Ewa Vesin, Mariam Sokolova, Sergey Radchenko, et al; Rome Opera House Chorus & Orchestra/Alejo Pérez; dir. Emma Dante (Rome, 2020)
Naxos DVD: 2.110663; Blu-ray: NBD0113V 133 mins
Prokofiev thought it his finest work written in exile, but wisely tucked the score of The Fiery Angel away in his publisher’s basement when he returned to the Soviet Union in 1936. A mystical struggle between good and evil was unlikely to appeal to Stalin’s music police. And frankly the opera hasn’t greatly appealed to audiences either.
It lacks the satirical kick-in-the-teeth of The Gambler and the insinuating madness of The Love for Three Oranges; indeed, with its extended declamatory scena for the heroine Renata in thrall to a devil angel, and a network of musical leitmotifs, it feels somehow safer than Prokofiev’s other theatre works.
- We named Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 one of the best Russian orchestral works
If anyone might have rebuilt the opera’s reputation it is the director Emma Dante. And setting the work in a version of the celebrated catacombs at Palermo with niches for the living and the dead, turning the fiery angel into a hip hopper who ‘flies’ with his legs, and literally ‘fleshing’ out the drama with a cast of eight actors works well.
The cast, mostly Russian in the middle ranks, are good too. The Polish soprano Ewa Vesin tackles the hugely demanding role of Renata with complete conviction, while Leigh Melrose’s Ruprecht, in thrall to her, does his best to find a character. In the pit Alejo Pérez gives a handsome account of Prokofiev’s score, parts of which reappear in his Third Symphony. But where’s the music drama? This is an opera that talks too much and acts too little, that is high on mystic magic and low on theatre.