The Fiery Angel

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce, five stars

ALTHOUGH hemmed in by compromises, this concert performance of Prokofiev’s rarely heard masterwork – his own belief – was a truly remarkable undertaking. Presented as part of Scottish Opera’s Sunday series, but relocated from the Theatre Royal, and in partnership with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, who provided much of the extra musical muscle, it is an astonishing piece capable of the most contemporary interpretation. The central role of Renata – on stage and in full voice for the duration – was sung by soprano Svetlana Sozdateleva, whose specialism in the demanding role has taken her across the opera houses of Germany and to North and South America.

Superficially her obsession with the titular character (whom we never see in either paranormal form or as human avatar) makes her a couple of sandwiches short of the meal deal, but has her mind been disturbed by a back story of actual abuse that is only compounded by the events of the unfolding drama? Certainly, the psycho-Gothic tone of the tale has been far from unfashionable recently, and the music – unarguably the composer at the peak of his powers – keeps the story racing on as colourfully as possibly even when the limited staging was monochrome.

The expanded Orchestra of Scottish Opera (more than half of the eight double basses RCS students, for example) was on stellar form throughout, with the 50 string players dispatching some technically remarkable scoring in fine style and the three clarinets making a huge impression in a prominent role. They were joined by choral forces from the conservatoire at the conclusion with the young women of the nun’s chorus particularly effective in passages that prefigure music of decades later.

Other roles were split between local and Russian professionals (with baritone Evez Abdulla also immense as Renata’s troubled lover Ruprecht) as well as RCS opera school students, and the whole vast company was under the authoritative command of conductor Mikhail Agrest. He’s back for a one-off concert of Russian music with the orchestra at Ayr Town Hall in the spring, which looks like an unmissable coda.