Opera Reviews
13 April 2024
Untitled Document

A thrilling performance

by Carina Graham
Prokofiev: The Fiery Angel
Scottish Opera
December 2017

It is an understatement to say that Renata, heroine of Prokofiev’s opera The Fiery Angel has mental health issues.  As operatic mad scenes go, this one lasts the full five acts. Set in 16th century Germany in and around Cologne, it is a tale of a young woman who has seen angelic visions since childhood, projects them onto a real man Heinrich, with whom she lives for a year before he leaves her, after which she goes in search of him. This information she over-shares with the knight staying in the next-door room in an inn, when she has a fit and he comes to see if she is all right.

In Scottish Opera’s thrilling concert performance, Svetlana Sozdateleva's (Renata) first fit has her singing an insistent, repeated phrase at a vision and it doesn’t get any easier. She’s good, though and well-matched by Evez Abdulla (Ruprecht the knight), who is initially tempted to take advantage of such a pretty girl. Not only does she fight him off, he also thinks better of it himself.

The landlady of the inn – deliciously-voiced Maria Maksakova in killer heels – brings in a fortune-teller for Renata. Agnieszka Rehlis’s fortune-teller is appalled – in luscious tones - at what she sees in Renata’s palm, but she is only providing entertainment for the landlady and a customers; Mark Nathan is one of the students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland taking the smaller roles. He sings the Jack-the-laddish part with a twinkle.

Renata is into magic and the occult, and sees this as a way to get Heinrich back. Ruprecht is, by now, helping her – acquiring books and manuscripts from Jakob Glock (Thomas Kinch), nervous of the Inquisition. The couple is certainly at the outer reaches of interest in the black arts, and Ruprecht quickly takes up Glock’s offer of a visit to the scholar Agrippa von Nettesheim. Dmitry Golovnin’s robust tenor voice mostly stands up against the intense orchestral sound. It’s a good part too – half dismissive of any suggestion he is a magician, half superciliously claiming it.

By the time she has tracked down Heinrich and got Ruprecht to challenge him to a duel, in which Ruprecht is injured, Renata is prepared to declare her love when she thinks Ruprecht is dying. He recovers and after a year together, they have a major tiff in a pub and she sends him away. It is overheard by Mephistopheles, wonderfully sung by Luke Sinclair, and Johann Faust (Jerome Knox), who provide some comic relief, before we move to the convent where Renata now lives. The Abbess (Maksakova again) has called in the Inquisitor. Alexei Tanovitski imbues his singing with deep menace as he exorcises the convent’s demons from young nuns Emma Mockett and Julia Daramy-Williams, then condemns Renata to death.

Director Max Hoehn  makes good use of the resources of the Glasgow City Hall for the staging. Conducting the Orchestra of Scottish Opera, augmented by students from the Conservatoire, Mikhail Agrest keeps driving the music to its inexorable conclusion. More Conservatoire singing students provide the chorus.

Text © Catriona Graham
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