This 1993 production of Sergei Prokofiev’s operatic adaptation of the Valery Bryusov novel presents a stunning consideration of madness, occultism, obsession, religious mania and the destructive power of misguided love.
Set in Cologne in 1534, the story focuses on the doomed union of the knight Ruprecht and his fascination with the emotional Renata, whose childhood visions of a fiery turned into the living vision of a nobleman with whom she had a brief but disastrous affair. Ruprecht’s attachment to Renata makes him an outcast while Renata’s use of alchemy and occult manuscripts to locate and reunite with her aristocratic ex-lover unleashes a fury of events that tests the bonds of faith and sanity.
Galina Gorchakova’s Renata is a masterwork of mixed passions – her wild-eye gaze during fits of terror easily dissolves into a poised self-assurance as she mixes various potions to call back her lost love. Sergei Leiferkus’ Ruprecht is a stunning presentation of a once-sturdy figure in a slow-motion descent into madness and tragedy. Stage director David Freeman frames the action with a squadron of barely-dressed muscular men (the St. Petersburg Mariinsky Acrobatic Troupe) covered in volcanic ash-color body paint – they represent the demons that observe Renata and Ruprecht’s self-destructive frenzy, occasionally gyrating before the doomed couple in order to speed their madness.
This fascinating presentation, which was directed for home viewing by Brian Large, is a thoroughly entertaining experience. And even people who profess to loathing opera will be hypnotized by this remarkable endeavor.