Fiamma, La (‘The Flame’)
- John C.G. Waterhouse
Melodramma in three acts by Ottorino Respighi to a libretto by Claudio Guastalla , freely based on Hans Wiers-Jenssen’s play Anne Pedersdotter; Rome, Teatro Reale dell’Opera, 23 January 1934.
Originally set in 16th-century Norway, Wiers-Jenssens’s turbulent drama about witchcraft, love and retribution was transferred by Guastalla, at Respighi’s request, to Ravenna in the period when it was an outpost of the Byzantine empire. The heroine Silvana (soprano) has become the young second wife of the exarch Basilio (baritone); but she falls in love, Phaedra-like, with her stepson Donello (tenor). Meanwhile the old witch Agnese (mezzo-soprano), whom Silvana has unsuccessfully tried to shelter, reveals – just before dying at the stake – that Silvana’s marriage to Basilio was the result of witchcraft by her mother. Realizing for the first time that she may herself have inherited magic powers (the ‘flame’ of the opera’s title), Silvana manages to bewitch her stepson into returning her love. The couple are found together, and Silvana admits that she passionately needs Donello as an escape from the stifling effect of her marriage. On hearing this Basilio drops dead, and Silvana is tried for witchcraft and murder. Finding that even Donello does not wholly believe her innocent, she stops defending herself and is condemned to death....