OP1214. LA FIAMMA (Respighi), Broadcast Performance, 7 Aug., 1955, w.Molinari-Pradelli Cond. RAI Ensemble, Milano; Anna Moffo, Giacinto Prandelli, Carlo Tagliabue, Lucia Danieli, etc. (Italy) 2-GOP 66.343. Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 8012719663430
"LA FIAMMA (The Flame) is an opera in three acts by Ottorino Respighi to a libretto by Claudio Guastalla based on Hans Wiers-Jenssen's 1908 play Anne Pedersdotter, THE WITCH. The plot is loosely based on the story of Anne Pedersdotter, a Norwegian woman who was accused of witchcraft and burnt at the stake in 1590. The most successful of Ottorino Respighi's operas, is a tale of witchcraft and forbidden love set in Byzantine Ravenna, orchestrated with the lush resourcefulness we expect from the author of THE PINES OF ROME.
The melodramatic tale involves the illicit love of Silvana, the daughter of a witch, for her stepson Donello. When her husband Basilio dies of a heart attack, Silvana is accused of causing his death by witchcraft and is condemned to death.
LA FIAMMA premiered to considerable success on 23 January 1934 at the Teatro Reale dell'Opera in Rome in a performance conducted by Respighi himself. The production was directed by Alessandro Sanine with sets designed by Nicola Benois. Appearing near the end of Italian opera's creative lifespan, it made the rounds of international introduction in the mid-1930's, but its good reception then did not lead to many postwar revivals.”
- Will Crutchfield, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 6 Dec., 1987
“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
“Anna Moffo, an American soprano who was beloved for her rosy voice, dramatic vulnerability and exceptional beauty, was drawn early on into television and film, playing host of her own variety show on Italian television for many years. She might not have fulfilled her promise, but for a good dozen years Ms. Moffo enjoyed enormous success and won a devoted following at a time when her competition for roles like Verdi's Violetta, Puccini's Mimi and Donizetti's Lucia included Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi and Joan Sutherland. Though Ms. Moffo's voice was not large, it was warm and rich, with soft pastel colorings and a velvety lower range. Agile coloratura technique allowed her to sing high soprano bel canto repertory impressively, especially LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR. She was a thoroughly trained musician, having studied the piano and viola when she was a voice major on scholarship at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Her RCA recording of LA TRAVIATA, with Richard Tucker and Robert Merrill, is still prized for the subtlety and pathos she brings to her portrayal of Violetta. Still, her career could be seen as a cautionary tale about doing too much too soon. In 1954 she entered and won the Philadelphia Orchestra Young Artists Auditions. Awarded a Fulbright fellowship, she went to Rome to study voice, master the Italian language and train for opera.
Ms. Moffo made her stage opera debut in 1955 as Norina in Donizetti's DON PASQUALE in Spoleto. Her big breakthrough came the next year, when she starred in a television production of Puccini's MADAMA BUTTERFLY, directed by Mario Lanfranchi, a producer for RCA Victor and RAI. She and Mr. Lanfranchi married in 1957. Sensing her star potential, he pushed her too hard. Recalling this period in a 1977 interview, Ms. Moffo lamented that she sang an average of 12 new roles a year for the first four years of her career, all star parts. ‘I was working too hard and traveling too much’, she said. ‘I got mixed up in TV, films, things like that. Psychologically, I was miserable, always away, always alone’.
Her Met debut in 1959 was as Violetta in LA TRAVIATA. The reviews, though encouraging, were cautious. Ms. Moffo soon became a favorite at the Met, and remained so well into the 1960s. She appeared some 200 times with the Company, including her portrayal of Liù in the legendary production of Puccini's TURANDOT in 1961 that starred Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli. By the late 1960s, her voice was often unreliable. In his book THE AMERICAN OPERA SINGER, the critic Peter G. Davis writes of a now infamous 1969 Saturday afternoon broadcast performance of LUCIA at the Met. Rudolf Bing, the general manager, was so dismayed by her singing that he considered stopping the performance before Lucia's daunting ‘mad scene’ was broadcast to millions. That same year, Ms. Moffo caused a scandal in Italy when she appeared to be nude in a scene in the film UNA STORIA D'AMORE. In later years she insisted that she had not been totally unclothed.
In 1972 she and Mr. Lanfranchi divorced. Two years later she married Robert W. Sarnoff, the chairman of RCA, who was enthralled with his glamorous wife. Under Mr. Sarnoff, RCA built a promotional campaign around her, including an ill-advised recording of Massenet's THAÏS, with Ms. Moffo in the title role. The reviews, predictably, were very poor. For a brief time, though, Ms. Moffo was a lovely singer and appealing artist who broke out of the traditional career mode to reach the larger public. ‘You may not like what I do’, she said in a 1972 interview, ‘but you can't say I'm dull’."
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 11 March, 2006