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

Temple Winter Festival: The Tallis Scholars

Hodie Christus natus est. Today, Christ is born! A miracle: and one which has inspired many a composer to produce their own musical ‘miracle’: choral exultation which seems, like Christ himself, to be a gift to mankind, straight from the divine.

A new Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House

Fairy-tales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories, but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way; you can take away the simple delight of the score, but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

Bohuslav Martinů – What Men Live By

World premiere recording from Supraphon of Bohuslav Martinů What Men Live By (H336,1952-3) with Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from a live performances in 2014, with Martinů's Symphony no 1 (H289, 1942) recorded in 2016. Bělohlávek did much to increase Martinů's profile, so this recording adds to the legacy, and reveals an extremely fine work.

Berlioz: Harold en Italie, Les Nuits d'été

Hector Berlioz Harold en Italie with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles with Tabea Zimmermann, plus Stéphane Degout in Les Nuits d’été from Hamonia Mundi. This Harold en Italie, op. 16, H 68 (1834) captures the essence of Romantic yearning, expressed in Byron's Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage where the hero rejects convention to seek his destiny in uncharted territory.

Rouvali and the Philharmonia in Richard Strauss

It so rarely happens that the final concert you are due to review of any year ends up being one of the finest of all. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s all Richard Strauss programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra, however, was often quite remarkable - one might quibble that parts of it were somewhat controversial, and that he even lived a little dangerously, but the impact was never less than imaginative and vivid. This was a distinctly young man’s view of Strauss - and all the better for that.

‘The Swingling Sixties’: Stravinsky and Berio

Were there any justice in this fallen world, serial Stravinsky – not to mention Webern – would be played on every street corner, or at least in every concert hall. Come the revolution, perhaps.

Le Bal des Animaux : Works by Chabrier, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie et al.

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthaüser’s latest song recital is all about the animal kingdom. As in previous recordings of songs by Wolf, Debussy and Poulenc, pianist Eugene Asti is her accompanist in Le Bal des Animaux, a delightful collection of French songs about creatures of all sizes, from flea to elephant and from crayfish to dolphin.

The Pity of War: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall

During the past four years, there have been many musical and artistic centenary commemorations of the terrible human tragedies, inhumanities and utter madness of the First World War, but there can have been few that have evoked the turbulence and trauma of war - both past and present, in the abstract and in the particular - with such terrifying emotional intensity as this recital by Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall.

First revival of Barrie Kosky's Carmen at the ROH

Charles Gounod famously said that if you took the Spanish airs out of Carmen “there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish”.

Stanford's The Travelling Companion: a compelling production by New Sussex Opera

The first performance of Charles Villiers Stanford’s ninth and final opera The Travelling Companion was given by an enthusiastic troupe of Liverpudlian amateurs at the David Lewis Theatre - Liverpool’s ‘Old Vic’ - in April 1925, nine years after it was completed, eight after it won a Carnegie Award, and one year after the composer’s death.

Russian romances at Wigmore Hall

The songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov lie at the heart of the Romantic Russian art song repertoire, but in this duo recital at Wigmore Hall it was the songs of Nikolay Medtner - three of which were framed by sequences by the great Russian masters - which proved most compelling and intriguing.

Wolfgang Rihm: Requiem-Strophen

The world premiere recording of Wolfgang Rihm's Requiem-Strophen (2015/2016) with Mariss Jansons conducting the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks with Mojca Erdmann, Anna Prohaska and Hanno Müller-Brachmann, from BR Klassik NEOS.

Don Giovanni: Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera turned the art of seduction into bloodsport with its 2018/19 season-opener of Mozart’s dramma giocoso, Don Giovanni often walking a razor’s edge between hilarious social commentary and chilling battles for the soul.

Jonathan Miller's La bohème returns to the Coliseum

And still they come. No year goes by without multiple opportunities to see it; few years now go by without my taking at least one of those opportunities. Indeed, I see that I shall now have gone to Jonathan Miller’s staging on three of its five (!) outings since it was first seen at ENO in 2009.

Sir Thomas Allen directs Figaro at the Royal College of Music

The capital’s music conservatoires frequently present not only some of the best opera in London, but also some of the most interesting, and unusual, as the postgraduate students begin to build their careers by venturing across diverse operatic ground.

Old Bones: Iestyn Davies and members of the Aurora Orchestra 'unwrap' Time at Kings Place

In this contribution to Kings Place’s 2018 Time Unwrapped series, ‘co-curators’ composer Nico Muhly and countertenor Iestyn Davies explored the relationship between time past and time present, and between stillness and motion.

Cinderella goes to the panto: WNO in Southampton

Once upon a time, Rossini’s La Cenerentola was the Cinderella among his operatic oeuvre.

It's a Wonderful Life in San Francisco

It was 1946 when George Bailey of Bedford Falls, NY nearly sold himself to the devil for $20,000. It is 2018 in San Francisco where an annual income of ten times that amount raises you slightly above poverty level, and you’ve paid $310 for your orchestra seat to Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Des Moines: Glory, Glory Hallelujah

A minor miracle occurred as Des Moines Metro Opera converted a large hall on a Reserve Army Base to a wholly successful theatrical venue, and delivered a stunning rendition of Tom Cipullo’s compelling military-themed one act opera, Glory Denied.

In her beginning is her end: Welsh National Opera's La traviata in Southampton

David McVicar’s La traviata for Welsh National Opera - first seen at Scottish Opera in 2008 and adopted by WNO in 2009 - wears its heavy-black mourning garb stylishly.

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):