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„La fiamma“ wirft drei Frauen in einen brutalen Konflikt voller Intrigen, Verrat und Denunziation - Deutsche Oper Berlin

“La Fiamma” engulfs three women in a brutal conflict full of denunciation, treason and plot

Three great singers go head-to-head in a musical showdown. Doris Soffel, Aušrinė Stundytė and Martina Serafin describe their individual approaches to a major yet little-known opera

Doris Soffel takes on the role of Agnese © Agentur

Ms Soffel, what are your thoughts on LA FIAMMA, seeing as it’s hardly ever staged?

At last, back to singing in Italian. As a Wagner and Strauss specialist, that’s kind of special for me. The main thing, though, is that all three of us will be tackling the work almost like we would a world premiere, so there’ll be a sort of pioneering atmosphere. That’s always smashing and gets the creative juices flowing!

Respighi is considered to be one of the key figures in Italian instrumental music. But is Agnese, the role you’re playing, even the slightest bit Italian in terms of voice fach?

So, yes, the music has so many different strands that it’s hard to call it typically Italian anymore. There are hints of Puccini and verismo, Wagner too, and then at the end of Act 1 it’s almost like you’re in the middle of a Passion. I mean, Act 1 is really in your face dramatically. And then the singing roles go from hysteria in extremis to classical Italian harmoniousness.

Agnese is accused of infanticide and condemned as a witch. Everything happens really fast. How do you manage to get into the tragic character?

We’re thrown into the action halfway through and don’t get much heads-up on what’s gone before. My first words in the opera are in a desperate whisper: »Silvana! Save me!« The kind of tone you use with someone you know very well. Silvana’s mother, who’s also suspected of being a witch, was my friend, which explains why I’m going to her daughter for help. Me and Silvana are linked by that dark and tragic secret. That’s how I get into the role.

Witch trials are not a thing nowadays, luckily. So what can witches still teach us?

Witches were outsiders. I don’t think they were very into religion. And they were misfits in other ways, too, if you ask me. You still get this kind of person, obviously, but they have other labels. The way a society treats its »outsiders« reveals a lot about that society. And it’s not as if modern society has got rid of things like mass hysteria, mob justice and public pillorying. Just look at social media!

What aspect of the role poses the biggest challenge?

The part is incredibly intense. There’s no let-up for me – in the singing or the acting; every single note means something. But the real challenge is getting her powerlessness right. I surrender on stage to a violent mob, a hounded old woman staring ordeal by fire in the face. It’s different for everyone, of course, but it’ll hardly surprise you if I say I’m affected by it.


Aušrine Stundyte takes over the role of Silvana © Petra Baratova

Ms Stundytė, LA FIAMMA is staged so rarely that it’s going to be a debut performance for everyone involved. How have you been approaching the work?

I study a part by listening to it, over and over again. If I’m honest, I’m not a great one for learning roles by just reading from the page. I need the sound of it in my ear. So I sit at the piano and play the tunes over and over with my right hand, hammering them into my head, so to speak.

How does LA FIAMMA sound?

LA FIAMMA sounds like an Italian opera at first hearing, but when you listen closer to the melodies, it loses that traditional Italian character. The phrases, for instance, are not at all typical. They break off unpredictably. At the same time, though, the tonality is much less radical than it is with Stravinsky or Prokofiev. Nonetheless it has its very own musical language. Fascinating!

The character you play, Silvana, ends up being burnt as a witch. Why is that?

It’s a bit unclear, like a lot of the libretto storyline. Ok, she was a married woman with a lover, but there’s another thing going on: her mother is said to have been a witch too. But more interesting to me than the witch character or the issue of guilt is the mass psychosis that leads to the accusation. It’s the people, not the Church, that calls for the death penalty.

How do you get into a role that’s so hard to suss?
With a piece like LA FIAMMA I’m looking forward to working with director Christof Loy and seeing how he reads the role. Opera offers a lot of scope for interpretation. Apart from that, I have a little ritual before every performance I do: to get in the mood, I watch a film that fits the opera’s mood. For ELEKTRA it was »Hannibal« by Ridley Scott. Not yet sure what I’ll be watching for LA FIAMMA.


Martina Serafin takes over the role of Eudossia © Agentur

Ms Serafin, what was your first thought when they offered you the part of Eudossia?

First of all I had to look the opera up on the internet and listen to it. But at the first hearing I knew at once that I had to sing the part! Musically I got a buzz from the halfway-house voice type: deeper than a soprano, but not a classical mezzo-soprano. Eudossia’s voice is medium-pitched but sometimes hits lovely peaks. It makes for a very special blend.

Action-wise, she doesn’t glow with virtue, considering she kicks off a witch trial against her own stepdaughter…

It might sound cynical, but she has her reasons. She catches her stepdaughter in the act with her grandson and is later witness to her son falling down dead after an argument with his wife. From that point on, Eudossia’s actions are primarily those of a mother looking to ascertain why her son died and wanting revenge. She is a child of her period and back then people believed in witchcraft. There were official trials in courts of law, with witnesses heard and so forth.

Do you find it easier to play her if you focus on the loving mother within the evil stepmother?

That’s my first slant on her, the one that comes most naturally. I’ll keep any other angles open for the rehearsals. In December with Christof Loy I worked on my debut as Ortrud in LOHENGRINs, after spending 20 years singing the part of Elsa. It was an amazing experience. He was a huge help to me as I was getting into the role. And it’ll be the same with Eudossia, too.

What is it about a witch that still fascinates us in the present day?

She represents evil and otherness and prohibition. We’ve always been enthralled by that stuff. There’s the fear of the inexplicable, the supernatural, and maybe a part of us that wonders what it would be like to wield a sorcerer’s powers.

Interviews: Tilman Mühlenberg

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