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Dirigent Carlo Rizzi über ein Meisterwerk des Verismo, das auf seine Entdeckung wartet - Deutsche Oper Berlin

Conductor Carlo Rizzi on a Masterwork of Verismo still Awaiting its Discovery

This production of Respighi’s LA FIAMMA allows us to experience a very rare thing when performing an historical work during a regular opera house’s season: for all those involved – orchestra musicians, singers, director and myself too – it will be a debut. LA FIAMMA is practically never performed, so we will have the unique opportunity to jointly learn the work from scratch.

But why is LA FIAMMA performed so rarely? First of all, after its heyday in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, verismo had a hard time in general. Despite the stylistic breadth within the genre, its sound and its plot constructions soon appeared overbearing and untimely. European music developed in other directions, experimenting with atonality or minimalism. Some composers of the verismo era thus fell into oblivion over time – undeservedly, in my opinion. When we staged FRANCESCA DA RIMINI by Riccardo Zandonai, another very rarely-performed verismo opera, at the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 2021, the potential of this genre was plainly visible and audible.  

I am convinced we will experience something similar with LA FIAMMA. It is an opera with an incredible dynamic range, from very soft passages in which only two or three instruments are heard alongside language which is almost spoken, all the way to a truly mighty orchestra sound – it could hardly be larger. Respighi was a genius of orchestration and arrangement, and the colours he creates with such a great variety of instruments are fantastic. Staging such a melodramma requires voices of an almost Wagnerian heft and dramaticism, voices that can keep up with the extremely loud orchestral passages.

One reads occasionally that LA FIAMMA is an imbalanced opera because it unites so many different styles. Yet that is exactly what makes this fantastic work so enchanting.

Suffice it to examine the protagonist Silvana, who seems to me to hold the key to understanding the entire opera: her vocal style is not only enormously varied, but her voice also adapts to the conversational situation she finds herself in – she sings differently when speaking to her mother-in-law than when she is with her stepson Donello. In this way, Respighi paints a psychologically complex portrait of his characters, like a painter creating a huge painting, using different colours, materials and brushes. In Respighi’s case, however, formal variety is never just an exercise in style, but always governed by the question: how can the musical and dramaturgical feeling in this special situation best be conveyed?

I consider it a wonderful stroke of good fortune to be able to conduct this great work with the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin. To my ears, the warm, voluminous, homogeneous sound of this orchestra, steeped as it is in Wagner and Strauss, is a perfect fit for the opulence of an opera such as LA FIAMMA. Therefore, I look forward all the more to finally bringing Respighi’s last grand opera to the stage.

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