Hallucinogenic Angel: The Fiery Angel at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence

Prokofiev – The Fiery Angel (Огненный ангел)

Ruprecht – Scott Hendricks
Renata – Aušrinė Stundytė
Landlady – Bernadetta Grabias
Fortune-Teller – Agnieszka Rehlis
Agrippa of Nettesheim – Andrei Popov
Faust – Krzysztof Bączyk
Mephistopheles – Andrei Popov
Mother Superior – Agnieszka Rehlis
Inquisitor – Krzysztof Bączyk
Jacob Glock – Pavlo Tolstoy
Mathias Wissman – Łukasz Goliński
Doctor – Pavlo Tolstoy
Servant – Łukasz Goliński
Inn-Keeper – Łukasz Goliński

Chór Teatru Wilkiego – Opery Narodowej, Orchestre de Paris / Ono Kazushi.
Stage director – Mariusz Treliński

Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Grand Théâtre de Provence, Aix-en-Provence, France.  Sunday, July 15th, 2018. 

The Fiery Angel is one of those works that one waits a lifetime to see, only for three to suddenly come along at once.  Following Barrie Kosky’s high camp extravaganza in Munich, and Calixto Bieito’s dark, fascinating and textually penetrating account in Zürich, tonight the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence confided the work to Mariusz Treliński in a co-production with the Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa in Warsaw, as well as the Norske Opera in Oslo.

Photo: © Pascal Victor / artcompress

Treliński’s concept isn’t completely far removed from Bieito’s, in that while Bieito saw it as a parable of a girl who had suffered sexual abuse, Treliński sees the piece as being an account of the relationship between two quite dysfunctional, even damaged, people trying to live and survive in a world where nothing seems to be completely real.  Or is it?  This ambiguity makes for a fascinating central tenet to Treliński’s staging.  The set (Boris Kudlička) is a three-storey structure that constantly evolves, populated with shadowy figures who may, or may not be seen, as well as a drag queen and a few Elvis impersonators.  Video (Bartek Matias) is used intelligently to make even the walls of the structure seem constantly changing, even distorted.  In many respects, Treliński gives us, as spectators, something of a hallucinogenic trip.  The visuals can be quite overwhelming, yet one is constantly aware of how, through the seedy neon, they amplify the nocturnal tinta of the score.  Treliński’s is a staging of astonishing technical virtuosity, where characters metamorphosize into completely different people in the most imperceptible way, reinforcing that ambiguity.  The fluency with which the staging was executed was staggering – the way a crucifix at the back of the stage transformed into multiple devils that tormented the nuns in the final act was a seriously impressive coup de théâtre. 

Photo: © Pascal Victor / artcompress

Yet Treliński’s approach was not just visual.  Through his singing-actors he developed such a cogent and convincing narrative.  Interesting how he set the final act as a flashback to Renata’s childhood, reinforcing her backstory but also leaving us with even more questions.  We’ll never know whether her Madiel was a flesh and blood person, the result of abuse, or indeed even a drug-induced vision.  Similarly, we’ll never know whether Ruprecht had actually visited America, as he mentioned in the opening act.  The only thing that Treliński seems to make apparent to us is the nature of the relationship between these two people who desperately need each other.  Ruprecht seeing in Renata someone he can control, Renata seeing in Ruprecht someone on whom she can project her fantasies.

Photo: © Pascal Victor / artcompress

That Treliński’s staging had the visceral impact it did was due to the work of some truly remarkable singing-actors.  Renata has become something of a signature role for Aušrinė Stundytė who once again tonight proved herself to be one of the greatest singing-actors before the public today.  Stundytė gave us an astounding performance.  Every note, every gesture, everything that she did seemed part of an organic, living embodiment of her character.  One had no sense of where Aušrinė ended and Renata began, rather she simply is Renata, giving us a performance of astounding vividness.  The self-harming, tortured woman brought to life in a way that was harrowing to watch.  Vocally, her soft-grained yet voluptuous soprano was more than up to the task, singing with remarkable freedom, both in Renata’s ecstatic pealing, as well as being able to shade down the tone to a single thread of fearful sound that still managed to carry through the auditorium.  Stundytė’s Renata was harrowing, commanding and superbly sung.

Photo: © Pascal Victor / artcompress

Scott Hendricks was an implacable Ruprecht.  His firm, compact baritone carried well and he also sang in what sounded, to my ears at least, to be very idiomatic Russian.  The voice was slightly stretched in Act 2, with some dryness on top, but getting to hear such a firm voice in this music was certainly rewarding.  Hendricks was equally unflinching in his acting, portraying a man who no longer knew what was and what could be.  The remainder of the cast was most impressive in their multiple roles.  Notably, Bernadetta Grabias with her dusky yet fruity contralto.  Agnieszka Rehlis brought a sappy mezzo with a tangy edge to her roles.  We also had Pavlo Tolstoy’s handsome tenor, as well as Andrei Popov full of character, and Krzysztof Bączyk’s warm and resonant bass.  The chorus, from Treliński’s Warsaw base, impressed with their well-blended tone, which meant that the strangeness of the writing was fully brought out thanks to the precision of their tuning.

Photo: © Pascal Victor / artcompress

The Orchestre de Paris sounded transformed from the band heard in last night’s Ariadne.  Ono Kazushi led a reading that was elastic, fully alive to the score’s eeriness as well as its pulsating energy.  He built up the final scene gradually but with inescapable force, the throbbing ostinato building up inexorably to its inevitable conclusion.  As with the chorus, the high string writing registered thanks to the cleanness of the intonation.  Every section of the orchestra tonight was on electrifying form, accentuating and amplifying the stage pictures together with the performances of the singers.

Photo: © Pascal Victor / artcompress

Tonight, we saw an astonishing production that provoked us to think and to feel.  Some might not feel comfortable that Treliński doesn’t give us all the answers.  It struck me that in doing so, Treliński remains very true to the work.  The way that he transformed his concept, together with his creative team and cast, into such a fluent and visually striking staging was most impressive.  That it was anchored by a musical performance of such distinction really heightened its impact.  In Stundytė, we had surely the pre-eminent interpreter of the part today, as part of a cast that really was of the highest level.  A thrilling evening.

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