The Fiery Angel
: Огненный ангел
— Ognenny angel
) is an opera
in five acts by Sergei Prokofiev
to a Russian libretto
by the composer, based on the novel The Fiery Angel
(1908) by Valery Bryusov
Composition and Performance History
Prokofiev encountered Bryusov's novel, during his first visit to the United States
, (which was around 1918) and he soon (1919) began sketches for an opera. In 1921, the work was well under way. In March 1922, Prokofiev moved to the town of Ettal
, where he worked on the opera. A piano score was completed a couple of years later, but no orchestration had been worked on. In 1926 Bruno Walter
accepted the work for the Städtische Oper
. The opera was completed in August 1927, too late for the season. Walter cancelled the production. That year Sergei Koussevitzky
conducted part of the second act, but the reception was poor.
In 1930, during Prokofiev's new tour of America Giulio Gatti-Casazza of the Metropolitan Opera suggested staging Fiery Angel, but this did not go ahead.
In all, Prokofiev had great trouble staging this opera. Numerous attempts to do so failed. Various reasons have been suggested for each different case, such as Prokofiev allegedly failing to meet deadlines, because the work's peculiar nature estranged people, poor visual action.
Disappointed by its failure but determined to preserve the fruits of his labor, Prokofiev recycled the music into his Symphony No. 3, and extracted some of it into a vocal suite, his opus 37b. Since his death the opera has had better luck, but is still not widely performed.
In a concert setting, the opera was first given on 25 November 1954 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. The first staged performance was given on 14 September 1955 at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice.
The full title of Bryusov's novel gives a good idea of the substance of the opera:
- The Fiery Angel; or, a True Story in which is related of the Devil, not once but often appearing in the Image of a Spirit of Light to a Maiden and seducing her to Various and Many Sinful Deeds, of Ungodly Practices of Magic, Alchymy, Astrology, the Cabalistical Sciences and Necromancy, of the Trial of the Said Maiden under the Presidency of His Eminence the Archbishop of Trier, as well as of Encounters and Discourses with the Knight and thrice Doctor Agrippa of Nettesheim, and with Doctor Faustus, composed by an Eyewitness.
Set in sixteenth-century Germany, the story concerns a young woman named Renata who has fallen in love with a "fiery angel" whom she believes appeared to her during her childhood. She later identifies the "angel" with one Count Heinrich, who takes her as his mistress but then abandons her. She enlists the knight-errant Ruprecht in her efforts to track down her "angel". Though she believes her motives are holy, the presence of Faust, Mephistopheles and assorted demons in the story suggests otherwise. Her obsessive quest leads her and the loyal, lovestruck Ruprecht deep into the realms of the occult. After many bizarre adventures, Ruprecht emerges unscathed, but Renata is condemned by the Inquisition to a fiery death at the stake.
The opera treats the dark arts in a largely sarcastic and humorous manner. The music is dark and imposing, and the singing, especially that of Renata, is chillingly histrionic.
There are only three recordings of The Fiery Angel