After having finished the composition of The love of the three oranges, Prokòfiev discovers The Angel of Fire in a New York bookstore, a novel published in chapters by a reference author of Russian symbolism, Valeri Briúsov. Immediately, and without any commission, Prokòfiev begins to write the libretto for an opera that he will never see performed on stage.
From the beginning of its composition, Prokòfiev was well aware of the difficulties that his work would have to be premiered. He finished writing The Fire Angel in 1926 in Paris. At that moment, Bruno Walter, director of the Städtische Oper in Berlin, became aware of its existence and showed interest in it. But they realized the great complexity of the work and that it would not arrive in time to be scheduled for that season., So they decided to abandon the project..
The next attempt to put her on stage took place when the Metropolitan of New York contacted Prokòfiev. But nevertheless, this time, the difficulty in finding singers who wanted to face the challenge, prevented your programming.
It was not until 1954, a year after the composer's death, when The Fire Angel premiered in Paris, even if it was in concert version. Was the 14 September 1955 when it was first staged at the Venice Contemporary Music Festival, in La Fenice. Mario Nordio made an Italian version with the musical direction of Nino Sanzogno, stage direction by Giorgio Strehler, Ezio Frigerio's wardrobe, the set design by Luciano Damiani, and the lead role of Renata by Doroty Dow.
There may be two main reasons that explain the difficulties in premiering this opera. One of them was the treatment of sensitive issues, like the ones that addressed the libretto. Prokòfiev adapting the original work by Briúsov, had stripped it of the magical elements alluding to witchcraft. The composer himself describes these difficulties in a letter: “The Fire Angel can be a fascinating and powerful opera, will express drama and terror, but you have to avoid any devil or any vision that may be explicitly on stage, but, runs the risk of falling into pure theatrical masquerade”. Prokofiev was well aware that in adapting Briusov's text he had to eliminate the explicit scenes and present them ambiguously through the protagonist.. Prokòfiev went on to say in his letter: “The other great difficulty is that the entire opera is centered on the two main characters. If I don't get them off the scene at some point, we are not going to find any singer who can with these characters”.
This is the second reason why The Fire Angel could not be released. The play, whose weight falls almost exclusively on the two main characters, was of such vocal demand, that no singer was willing to interpret it.
After so many frustrated attempts and fearing that it would never be performed and the music would be lost, Prokòfiev incorporated much of the musical material from the opera in Symphony No. 3 On. 44.
The scenery of Calixto Bieito, presenting this opera for the first time in Spain, masterfully couples with the score and libretto. Not just fit the job, but it enhances the deepest psychological aspects. We need to remember, that when this opera was composed, psychoanalysis was developing throughout Europe, and set design by Rebecca Ringst, composed of a rotating construction, attends to the description of the human brain made by Freud: “The brain is like a house with many rooms”. And that's what the stage crew has done, a house with many rooms, linked together by stairs. Similar in concept to Claus Guth's creations, the apartment structure shows defined spaces and others more ambiguous, forming an architectural ensemble that fits perfectly with the psychological swarm of the protagonist.
At the end of the performance, the structure separates, decomposing the building, in the same way that the psychological labyrinth of the protagonists is diluted. The result is very sophisticated and the emotional intensity it represents, does not conflict at any time with the music.
It was the first time Gustavo Gimeno conducted an opera by Prokòfiev and the result has been satisfactory, given the complexity of the score. The orchestra maintains the dramatic tension, which is almost permanent, although some more defined orchestral plans and a cleaner sound were missing.
The choral part of this score is diabolical and the titular Choir of the Teatro, Intermezzo, has had an outstanding intervention. The patterns they use, apparently simple, by repetitive, they are highly complex, because all repetitions are different. In fact, when the opera premiered at La Fenice in the 1955, the choir stood in the pit, to be able to have the sheet music.
The Angel of Fire is conceived around the singers. The voice demand, emotionally and physically is superior to any opera that has been written so far. Renata's leading role is absolute and her performance exhausting. She is a traumatized woman trapped by the ghosts of her past and the Latvian soprano Ausrine Stundyte., reflects perfectly through his interpretation, those thoughts that harass and excite her. Stundyte does not rest for a single moment in the two long hours that the work lasts. He runs through the three floors of the stage without rest and without lowering the intensity of his tormented character. With a great central support and mighty treble, had the ability to reach the end of the performance with vocal and interpretive freshness almost intact.
Renata was very well accompanied on stage by the Ruprecht of the British Leigh Melrose, already known in this theater for his participation in Gloriana and Death in Venice. His interpretive ability is beyond doubt.. He showed us a Ruprecht infected by Renata's hysteria and absolutely disturbed by her. His vocal part was not easy either, with the added difficulty of not having the support of the orchestra in many moments, which requires a tuning work that he solved gracefully. The fatigue caused by the histrionics and effort with which he gave his character was noticed a little at the end..
How much Prokòfiev would have liked to have counted on Stundyte and Melrose in his attempts to release The Fire Angel…
Dmitry Golovnin was in charge of giving life to Agrippa von Nettesheim, a more philosophical character and another much darker, Mephistopheles. Its timbre is sharp and penetrating and it was disturbing enough in both cases.
Dmitry Ulianov, already an old acquaintance of the Madrid public, gave a good performance with his dark and round voice and his always imposing stage presence.
Mika Kares did not know how to transfer his physical presence as an inquisitor to the projection of his voice. The Finnish bass stayed a fair bit of power.
Agnieszka Rehlis, in her dual role as seer and superior, He was very successful in his interpretation., enigmatic and unsettling. Good also in the vocal part, showing good bass registers and enough power.
The tenor Josep Fadó demonstrated an excellent sonority and presence. David Lagares also stood out in his brief speeches. They both did a good performance.. The rest of comprimarios were at a good level, complementing a very balanced cast. Nino Surguladze, as innkeeper and Anna Gomá and Estibaliz Martyn, as novices.
This production of The Fire Angel is spectacular, hypnotic. By the end, you realize that you have been immersed in a world difficult to describe and full of intensity. A work that leaves no one indifferent, even less in these moments in which, effectively, we are immersed in a world difficult to describe.