This week brings another opera about which we’ve heard a lot but have had few opportunities to see onstage: The Fiery Angel by Sergei Prokofiev.
This 2015 performance features noteworthy Czech and Slovakian singers in a production which marked a huge success for the National Moravian-Silesian Theatre of Ostrava. Baritone and Verdi specialist Martin Bárta won a singer-of-the-year award for his performance as Ruprecht.
While Prokofiev is mostly thought of as a composer of symphonies, piano concerti, and the incredible Romeo and Juliet ballet score, he spent time on 14 operas from The Giant at age nine in 1900 until leaving Distant Seas unfinished when he died in 1953.
He began The Fiery Angel in 1919, writing his own libretto based on Valery Bryusov’s 1908 novel with the same title. Due to its complexity, unfulfilled promises for a premiere, and–most significantly–its subject matter, that of demonic possession, it sat unfinished for nearly a decade.
Bruno Walter promised a premiere in Berlin for which Prokofiev completed the orchestrations in 1927, but it never came to be: the world premiere was given two years after his death at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on 25 November 1955 (in French) soon followed by performances in Venice and Trieste (in Italian; one cast starred Rolando Panerai and Leyla Gencer). It took till 1990 to have the first recording sung in Russian, conducted by Neeme Järvi.
Finding a valid, complete synopsis took some work: there are significant variations among those offered by Wikipedia, Boosey & Hawkes, the Bolshoi Theater, and the Bayerische Staatsoper. A link to the last of these is included on the Mixcloud page, although it omits the ending in which Renata is condemned by the Inquisitor to be burned at the stake.
I am still a bit confused over the title character: Madiel in angelic form; Count Heinrich von Otterheim (or another name, depending on which synopsis you consult) in human form. I cannot find any of these names in any of the cast lists for performances or recordings. Until someone sends me the inevitable correction, I am assuming that the character is only referenced, or portrayed by an actor. So who is Parterre’s Prokofiev specialist?