GMNís exclusive opera offering this week is a webcast video of Prokofievís sensational opera, The Fiery Angel. In a suitably daring production by David Freeman, the hordes of Hell beset the stage at every opportunity, insinuating themselves around the star of the show - poor, troubled Renata, sung by the glorious Galina Gorchakova. Valery Gergiev and his Kirov Opera make light of Prokofievís dense, demanding score and bring welcome color to this strange, dark story.
The first act introduces us to a scene in sixteenth-century Germany, where the Knight Ruprecht encounters and falls for the terrified Renata who, having lost her cherished visions of the 'Fiery Angel' for want of sexual pleasure, is now tormented by an array of demons fresh from Hell's gates. Thought by the locals to be a harlot and a witch, the hysterically confused girl believes that a certain Count Heinrich is the living embodiment of her angel, although he abandoned her after a brief affair.
Unperturbed, and with not much help from magic herbs and trusty Ruprecht, the Count again renounces her as the work of the Devil and, to cut a long story short, she fetches up in a convent in the last act of the piece, where the wildest orgy ever seen on an opera stage has her fellow nuns conniving and cavorting with the legion of the damned.
Throughout the opera she strings along the hapless Ruprecht, she loves him, she loves him not, and to be honest, he really only has himself to blame - because, she loves him not. Here is a man who could get into the hall of fame for not knowing how to take a hint. And his reward? The Devil invites him to watch his beloved condemned to death as a monstrous sinner having, apparently, had sexual congress with the the dark lord himself. Sometimes days just go from bad to worse!
Prokofiev isn't really taking any prisoners here. He even rejuvenates a couple of magicians from the past, including the famous Faust, who infamously chose the short spoon when supping with Satan. Is this the final straw for old Ruprecht? - after all even Faust eventually managed to save his beloved, Margareta.
Theories abound as to what the opera is telling us, if anything. Is it an attack on religion or is it a defence of Christianity? An analysis of a serious personality disorder? There have been feminist and scientific evaluations, and one claiming that it is a satirical attack on Stravinsky's influence on music in the 1920s.
Whatever the case, the soprano almost has to be mad to take on the title role. Renata is rarely off the stage and it's undoubtedly one of opera's toughest roles. Galina Gorchakova, though, isn't mad, merely wonderfully well prepared technically and musically and she's well-matched by GMN artist Sergei Leiferkus as Ruprecht.
Watch the uncensored video of Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel
Click here for the cast list.
And, if you have a clear head, read the twists and turns of the complete plot.