Not so long ago I reviewed a production of Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel and described it as “so bonkers that I hardly know how to describe it.”. So what to say about one that I found even less satisfying? First, for plot details check out the earlier review. Now for this version directed by Andrea Breth and filmed at the Theater an der Wien in 2021 without an audience but with no other obvious concessions to COVID.
It’s entirely set in a mental hospital and all the characters are either patients or, apparently equally demented, doctors. I think this is a cop out. If you have a piece that involves demonic possession, angels, Faust, magicians, fortune tellers and Mephistopheles telling us that it’s all a function of the delusional nature of the characters seriously undermines the work. Maybe everybody is delusional but they are delusional in a specifically pre-modern way and we need to work out for ourselves what might be real and what might not be; what they believe in and what’s self-delusional. As a thought experiment imagine giving Gounod’s Faust this treatment. It’s also almost entirely monochrome. So, despite there being some arresting stage pictures, some serious creepiness and strong performances I found it impossible to relate to the characters enough to get emotionally involved. In fact, mostly I found it irritating.
It’s a shame on another level too because the performances are generally very strong. Aušrinė Stundytė, as Renata, really makes us believe that we are seeing a seriously disturbed person. Her body language and her obsession with a teddy bear that appears to be a surrogate for the angel Madiiel are exceptionally vivid. Bo Skovhus, as Ruprecht, is an equally good foil. The other parts are well sung and acted and everybody seems committed to the concept. Conductor Constantin Trinks gets an appropriately colourful account of the score from the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien (and, musically, this is all about the orchestra) and the Arnold Schoenberg Chor are their usual excellent selves. So musically this is actually very good.
Tiziano Mancini does a very decent job of transferring stage to screen and on Blu-ray the technical values are very high. The booklet contains a track listing, a synopsis and an essay. Subtitles are German, English, Korean and Japanese.
So, despite the strong acting, I found this so uninvolving that if I hadn’t been reviewing I doubt I would have made it all the way through to the end.
Catalogue number: Unitel Blu-ray 805908