Buy “Prokofiev, Gergiev, Gorchakova, Leiferkus – Fiery Angel – Music” Online

Fiery Angel

This is a very good audio cd of the Fiery Angel. I have no reservations worth mentioning about any of the singing by the large cast, nor about the playing or Gergiev’s direction. The liner is first-class as well, and while the sound is not as rich as I might have liked, I am not bothered enough by that to reduce the 5-star rating. What really bothers me is that this is an opera that demands staging. However good it is in sound alone, I am simply reviewing and rating the wrong thing. Given this basic difficulty, which is outwith the scope of this review, a lot of the enjoyment any of us can get from the set is going to depend on what kind of sense we make of the story. It is really more about mediaeval Christianity, featuring angelic apparitions, diabolical possession, cabalistic books, the occult, a convent and an exorcism that gets seriously out of hand than it is about the ostensible story of the raving Renata and the rule-bound Ruprecht. Even in mediaeval times there were authors willing to send up the rigmarole of holy incantations, and I hope my memory over 40+ years is still accurate in recollecting such a quote from Marlow’s Faustus to use as my caption. Marlow’s mockery was humorous, but here we have another story, also featuring Faustus rather unexpectedly, which is anything but humorous. I myself understand Valery Bryusov’s tale that so fascinated Prokofiev to be a sustained and savage parody of the whole ghastly rigmarole that was mediaeval Christianity. Prokofiev lets fly with everything he has got at the incantations in the exorcism, but the whole culture had sex on the brain (not the right place for sex), and it was obsessed with control of people’s minds. On my understanding, namely that the narrative is a frontal attack on this mindset and not just another gothick yarn, Renata’s constant 180-degree turns in her rantings make perfect sense. I have seen the storyline criticised for being disconnected tableaux, but that is not how I read it. Renata’s series of obsessions is cumulative, leading to the convent via an effective guest appearance from Mephistopheles and Faust, and shedding the patient and plodding Ruprecht when there is nothing more to keep him in the plot. The music similarly does not seem to get into its stride until we get the early narrative stuff behind us and find ourselves in Koeln with its unfinished Dom (which the liner unaccountably keeps mentioning). Until then we have been accompanying poor Ruprecht in his struggles to make sense of Renata. Leiferkus does an excellent job with his part such as it is, and indeed it is a big part in the basic sense of giving him plenty to sing. Sadly the lack of melodic or lyric interest makes all this seem to me longer than it really is, Leiferkus or no Leiferkus. However once set the composer loose on the occult stuff for real, and we are in business. Everyone seems unanimous in commending Gorchakova in the part of Renata, and let me join in that wholeheartedly. The male roles that interest me a lot more than Ruprecht does are Mephistopheles and the Inquisitor. Mephisto himself is, interestingly and effectively, a tenor part, which I think a brilliant inspiration on the composer’s part, because it captures the pantomime devil-in-red-tights side of his portrayal. Konstantin Pluzhnikov has the idea absolutely, and so has Vladimir Ognovenko as the frantic Inquisitor, totally out of his depth in the final maelstrom. It is a large cast and they really all do very well. My collection of Kirov/Gergiev operas on disc (even Sadko on DVD) is still smallish, but my confidence in what to expect grows with every successive acquisition, including this one. How you will like the sound I’m not too sure. I thought it a little lacking in bloom when I started listening, but my ear adjusted, as happens, and after a while I had forgotten my reservations, as also tends to happen. It is all very clear, at least. The liner is a de luxe effort, with a good introductory essay by Robert Layton, a detailed synopsis of the plot (indispensable, I’d say), photos of the main movers and shakers, and the full libretto in Russian printed using Roman characters, and translated into three languages. I just wish I had thought to do what I did with Sadko, and got it all on DVD. This was a live performance (there is applause at the end of each disc), so presumably it was videorecorded and not just in sound. Maybe I have managed to help a little in the interpretation of the plot, depending on whether you think the way I do about it, and there can surely be little dispute about the set’s quality in other respects. However if you decide to go for it, go for the real deal. Check it out!

This is a piece in many ways better experienced with both the visual and aural aspects (and, in fact, there is a fine video of this production available from Philips), but the score is powerful on its own. Soprano Galina Gorchakova is dramatically and vocally astounding in the role of Renata, which she makes her own; Sergey Leiferkus, usually heard singing unidiomatic Italian or French roles in the West, is much more at home as the knight Ruprecht. The large supporting cast shows the merits of the Kirov’s old ensemble system. In an amusing (and logical, if you think about it) touch, Prokofiev has made his Mephistopheles a grating character tenor (think Herod), and his scholarly Faust a bass. –Sarah Bryan Miller




Fiery Angel Review


This is, in most respects, another complete success from Gergiev in Russian opera, this time with one of the most spectacularly and, well, fiery works in the repertoire. While it is probably true that Prokofiev sometimes let artistic judgment fly in favor of sheer spectacle, the end result is undeniably striking and powerful, going from smoldering intensity to being completely engulfed in flames; there is an atmosphere of hysteria and intensity in this one to which I’ve never heard anything equal. But this tour-de-force also needs a conductor who can keep the reins and never lose sight of the overarching structure, and while Gergiev certainly conducts with ferocity, power and drive, I cannot help but feeling that he sometimes looses sight of the lines. Still, it is overall a very satisfying performance from conductor and orchestra. And fortunately the singers are more than adequate as well. Leiferkus is overall pretty good, but sounds a bit impersonal at times. Gorchakova, on the other hand, sings with the perfect mix of beauty and intensity, even hysteria, that the role (Renata) really needs; indeed, I cannot imagine this role being better done. The other roles are consistently fine as well. Now, this is a live recording and there is inevitably going to be some extraneous noise, but fortunately there is little from the audience and the stage-noise isn’t really intrusive. More worrisome, overall, is the fact that the sound is a little constricted, inevitably preventing some of the fiery orchestral brilliance to bloom or leave the impact that it could have. This is, to be sure, a minor point as well, but together with some other nitpicks the final verdict must be that even this driven, powerful performance still could potentially be bettered. Indeed, for the orchestral part I actually prefer Järvi (just as I prefer Järvi to Gergiev in the symphonies). But then, there’s Gorchakove . .. Järvi’s soloists aren’t really any match for Gergiev’s. No, listening again to the power and intensity realized here, there’s no way I can give this one less than top marks. Urgently recommended. -Read Reviews-

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