The Fiery Angel
Performed in Russian
Premiere of this production: 24 Apr 2004
The performance has 1 intermission
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes
A Fiery Angel in Soviet Reality
The enigmatic, mystical opera The Fiery Angel got its first Bolshoi Theatre production in 2004.
This opera which is second to none in terms of its shattering emotional intensity, was introduced to Moscow audiences by Bolshoi Theatre music director, Alexander Vedernikov. Sergei Prokofiev’s multidimensional music was given stage form by Francesca Zambello and Georgy Tsypin who, in 2002, had done a production of Turandot for the Bolshoi.
Zambello is known, not without reason, as an expert on Russian subject matter — she has directed Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov (twice) and Khovanshchina, Prokofiev’s War and Peace, Shostakovich’s The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and The Nose, Borodin’s Prince Igor, Tchaikovsky’s The Slippers. Francesca sees herself as an expert in working with Russian artists: “I know how to help them, where to direct their searches, how to boost their self-confidence”.
Zambello first came to Moscow in 1976, as a student, to study Russian literature and the language and, as she acknowledges, she fell in love with Russian culture. Georgy Tsypin, Zambello’s co-author on the production, is one of the most sought after of theatre designers. His productions — and he has worked at leading opera houses in Europe and America — have garnered many prestigious prizes and awards.
The Zambello-Tsypin production team has freed The Fiery Angel of its ’decorative’ medieval fetters and transferred the action to twentieth century Russia in the 20’s. The Bolshoi stage has been transformed into a sinister apartment block well, steeped in an atmosphere of mysticism and diabolical practices. It is in the bowels of this well that Renata’s drama is played out, obsessed as she is either by divine revelations or by diabolical delusions. It is the issue of the interrelationship between artist and the authorities that serves as the background for a detailed, psychological portrait of the opera’s heroine. “For me”, Francesca Zambello admits, “Renata’s passions are like those of the artist”.
Ruprecht, a traveler, arrives to a rented room where he is to stay for the night. He is distracted by noise coming from another room where he finds Renata, a woman possessed by spirits. Renata tells him her life story. As a young girl, she’d seen a Fiery Angel, Madiel, who had become her friend but refused her physical love as she grew older. Later, she met the Count Genrich who she thought was Madiel himself. They lived happily in his castle for a year but then he left her and she has been looking for him ever since.
Ruprecht decides to join Renata in her travels and hopes to become her lover. Renata is eager to leave the rooms where she is been accused of being a prostitute, and continue to look for Genrich. The landlady brings in a fortune teller who predicts Renata bloody destiny. Ruprecht is furious and tries to attack the fortune teller but his knife is stopped by the supernatural forces. Renata and Ruprecht leave the rooms.
Renata is reading a book on magic. Ruprecht is tired of looking for Genrich but Renata will not give up. She also will not become Ruprecht’s lover, as she is still possessed by her Angel.
Yakov Glok brings in two books on magic and promises Ruprecht to find another important cabbalistic study later in the day.
Renata starts conjuring spirits. Knocks are heard on the walls, and both Renata and Ruprecht are excited to expect Genrich to appear. But as no one comes, Renata is desperate. Yakov Glok is back in order to take Ruprecht to Agrippa, an important magician posing as a scientist.
In Agrippa’s study, Ruprecht is questioning him about matters of science and magic. Agrippa is convinced that the real magician is actually a scientist and a philosopher.
Renata waits in front of Genrich’s house. She sees Ruprecht who returns from Agrippa, and implores him to kill Genrich and revenge her humiliation. Ruprecht, first in shock, finally agrees to a duel and challenges the Count. While he is talking to Genrich, Renata repents again and tries to prevent Ruprecht from killing her Angel. Ruprecht leaves for the duel.
At the duel, Ruprecht falls wounded. Matvey, his second, brings Renata to see him and goes for a doctor. Renata declares finally her love to Ruprecht, and the Doctor promises to save his life.
Ruprecht is healed. He asks Renata to marry him but she believes that their relationship is a sin. Her destiny is looking for salvation at the monastery. She leaves.
Looking for Renata, Ruprecht finds himself at the tavern where Mefistofeles is amusing himself by eating a little boy and then bringing him back to life. His companion, Faust, complains about Mefistofeles silly tricks. Both travelers invite Ruprecht to join them in their trip.
The monastery. Mother Superior has called the Inquisitor to defeat the spirits torturing Renata. When he arrives andperforms the exorcism, other nuns become affected by the demons. Renata denies her guilt and attacks the Inquisitor who accuses her for a sinful relationship with the Devil and orders to bum her on the stake. She triumphs over him.
© Bolshoi Theatre
© Photo by Damir Yusupov
1 Teatralnaya ploschad (1 Theatre Square), Moscow, Russia
4/2 Teatralnaya ploschad (4/2 Theatre Square), Moscow, Russia