OP0644. LA FIAMMA (Respighi), recorded c.1985, w.Lamberto Gardelli Cond. Hungarian State Opera Orchestra, Hungarian Radio & Television Chorus; Klára Takács, Péter Klein, Ilona Tokody, Tamara Takács, Sandor Solyom-Nagy, etc. (Germany) 3-Hungaroton 12591/93, Slipcase Set w.Elaborate 125pp. Libretto-brochure. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy; as New, albeit faintest marks at bottom of slipcase.
“For Budapest to be the locale of the first recording of Respighi LA FIAMMA is not as surprising as it may seem at first glance. Hungary saw this opera within a year after its 1934 Rome premiere, and it was kept in the local repertory until the outbreak of World War II. (The Hungarian production under Sergio Failoni was so well regarded by the composer that it was imported during those years to Florence and Milan, as well.) Now, nearly two generations later, it fell to Lamberto Gardelli, a frequent Budapest visitor, to champion this eminently worthy opera, aided - as his predecessor was not - by a cast conversant with the original Italian text.
LA FIAMMA is a grisly tale of lust, cruelty and witchcraft set in seventh century Ravenna, then a center of the Byzantine church and culture. Claudio Guastalla's flowery and overripe libretto seethes with a steamy passion not unlike the D'Annunzio text for Zandonai's FRANCESCA DA RIMINI, but Respighi's music is superior. It is a heady mix of Puccinian gestures (recalling TURANDOT, in particular), modal harmonies and impressionist elements. Richly imaginative orchestral textures carry vocal lines in short but effective melodic phrases. There is a phantasmagoric aura about LA FIAMMA, a mood of near-hysteria. Respighi's inspiration sags at times, but reaches a masterly level in the compact and brilliantly evocative second act.
The demands on the singers are enormous; while they are never fully met here, it would be hard to find a more committed cast. Especially noteworthy are the soprano Ilona Tokody, whose tones are of a haunting quality; the imperious-sounding mezzo Klára Takács, and the dramatically and vocally much-put-upon baritone Sandor Solyom-Nagy. Gardelli's direction retains a firm reign over the score's overheated passions. At times (as in the finale of Act I), Respighi's climaxes are ready to burst out of the audio grooves, waiting for CD's greater possibilities to accommodate them, but the set is well engineered. Hungaroton supplies an elaborate multilingual set of annotations.”
- George Jellinek, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 15 Sept., 1985
“Violent, super-heated and exotic, this is the most successful of Respighi's several operas. Premiered in 1934, it is essentially verismo in style, with frequent echoes of Giordano's ANDREA CHÉNIER intermingled with some Puccinian lyricism, elements of Gregorian chant and the archaic tonalities of which Respighi was fond and apt to colour his otherwise impressionistic idiom. There is a kind of mirror image in the structure of the opera whereby both the First and Third Acts end with febrile, intense crowd scenes centering on witchcraft and burnings at the stake.
The shifting, unstable, kaleidoscopic nature of the core can be disconcerting to the first-time listener but it is certainly not boring or lacking drama. There is an almost frenetic, hot-house atmosphere to this opera which most reminds me of Montemezzi's L'AMORE DEI TRE RE, another tragedy of guilty, illicit passion which moves with frightening speed towards a violent climax. Respighi's inclusion of an additional supernatural element courts lurid sensationalism but there is considerable psychological and musical subtlety to offset that danger; that complexity is indicated by the composer's choice of title: instead of calling his opera LA STREGA or similar, Respighi opted for LA FIAMMA to allude to the pervasive power of erotic love rather than magic.
This is hard to find but if you ever do - buy it! It's a fabulous work, very rich and perhaps too opulant for some tastes - Richard Strauss, Korngold, Massenet are all called to mind.”
- Ralph Moore