Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads - a new recording from SOMM

In 1877, Ethel Smyth, aged just nineteen, travelled to Leipzig to begin her studies at the German town’s Music Conservatory, having finally worn down the resistance of her father, General J.H. Smyth.

Wagner: Excerpts from Der Ring des Niebelungen, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, RCA-Sony

This new recording of excerpts from Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen is quite exceptional - and very unusual for this kind of disc. The words might be missing, but the fact they are proves to have rather the opposite effect. It is one of the most operatic of orchestral Wagner discs I have come across.

Wagner: Die Walküre, Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Simon Rattle, BR Klassik

Simon Rattle has never particularly struck me as a complex conductor. He is not, for example, like Furtwängler, Maderna, Boulez or Sinopoli - all of whom brought a breadth of learning and a knowledge of composition to bear on what they conducted.

Dvořák Requiem, Jakub Hrůša in memoriam Jiří Bělohlávek

Antonín Dvořák Requiem op.89 (1890) with Jakub Hrůša conducting the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The Requiem was one of the last concerts Jiří Bělohlávek conducted before his death and he had been planning to record it as part of his outstanding series for Decca.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

07 Jul 2018

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

The Fiery Angel in Aix

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Aušrinė Stundytė as Renata [All photos by Pascal Victor / Artcompress © courtesy of the Aix Festival]

 

Its primary role, the possessed Renata, is punishing nearly beyond comprehension and its relentless, lurid narrative is difficult to follow, and in fact the vulgarity of its music can be off-putting.

The Fiery Angel is the third of Prokofiev’s seven operas (The Gambler and Love for Three Oranges are the first two), and the last opera he wrote before his return to Russia in 1936. Though begun in 1919 when the composer was 28 years old, and completed only in 1927 it was not premiered until 1955 in Paris and then in Vienna.

There is no doubt that The Fiery Angel is Prokofiev’s most intense dramatic music. It tells the ugly story of a young girl possessed by an angel, though perhaps a devil. She wishes to make physical love with her possessor. Two or so hours and several mis-adventures later she is exorcized (unsuccessfully) in a convent together with other nuns. It is a medieval tale of expressed sexual desire told from an early twentieth century symbolist perspective.

FieryAngel_Aix2.pngAt the beginning there was the hotel room.

The possessed Renata and her would be redeemer, the knight Ruprecht seek and do find the angel of fire incarnate with the help of sorcerers. Finally Renata gives herself sexually to Ruprecht in place of the angel. A short philosophical discussion ensues between Mephistopheles and Dr. Faustus. And, voilà, Renata is condemned to be burned at the stake.

Mariusz Trelinski, artistic director of Teatr Wielki, staged the opera updating the action to what seemed to be rural eastern European surroundings in the communist 1960’s. Ruprecht seemed to be some sort of traveling salesman (if there were such then and there) who happened onto a seedy small town hotel. One recalled the Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman.

Strangely, though we are in France and there are scenes specifically in medieval Cologne there were English language neon signs placed high in a multi-storied grid that was the stage face. The Cologne scenes were then staged on platforms in its upper reaches, effectively and unfortunately disembowelling Renata and Ruprecht’s voices from the dissonant maelstrom emanating from the pit way below.

Japanese conductor Kazushi Ono urged ever greater volume and bombast from the stalwart Orchestra de Paris, complementing the crassness of the staging. One of the many remarkable moments was in fact the long awaited sexual consummation of Renata and Ruprecht, the couple humping on an upper level, the orchestra turging away way down below while a miniature Ruprecht double attempted to jump rope on the stage floor.

FieryAngel_Aix3.pngRenata (on left), Ruprecht (on right)

The role of Renata was sung by Aušrinė Stundytė, the Lithuanian soprano who incarnated the brilliant Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon. Mme. Stundytė brought similar intensity to the obsessed Renata, but fell victim, understandably, to the obtuse staging demands as well as to the stamina needed to complete the role. She was essentially voiceless for the concluding exorcism.

The American baritone Scott Hendricks was the Ruprecht. This esteemed artist seemed a fish out of water, his fine, Italianate lyric voice not finding an edge or the volume needed to embody this complex, possessed-by-love knight who first attempts to rape Renata, and then in this production is raped by Renata. As well, and more importantly, Mr. Hendricks was placed in the upper reaches of the grid for his big scenes, depriving us of a direct presence, and an immediacy of voice.

Faring better were tenor Andrei Popov as Mephistopheles and bass Krzysztof Baczyk as Faust who both essentially tore up the stage in their stage level scene in the hotel bar. Both artists succeeded in projecting words and sentences that directly tied us to content, however oblique, an attribute sorely lacking in the balance of Mr. Triliński’s production.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Renata: Aušrinė Stundytė; Ruprecht: Scott Hendricks; La Voyante / La Mère supérieure: Agnieszka Rehlis; Méphistophélès / Agrippa von Nettesheim: Andreï Popov; Faust / L’Inquisiteur: Krzysztof Bączyk; Jakob Glock / Un médecin: Pavlo Tolstoy; Matthieu Wissmann / L'Aubergiste / Un serviteur: Łukasz Goliński; La Patronne de l’auberge: Bernadetta Grabias; Première religieuse: Bożena Bujnicka; Seconde religieuse: Maria Stasiak. Orchestre de Paris, Chorus of the Opera of Warsaw. Conductor: Kazushi Ono; Mise en scène: Mariusz Treliński; Scenery: Boris Kudlička; Costumes: Kaspar Glarner; Lighting: Felice Ross; Vidéo: Bartek Macias; Chorégraphe: Tomasz Wygoda. Grand Théâtre de Provence, Aix-en-Provence, July 5, 2018.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):