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Respighi’s La Fiamma Ignites Ovations in Philadelphia

Academy of Vocal Arts
01/23/2009 -  and January 24 and 27
Ottorino Respighi: La Fiamma
Jessica Julin (Eudossia), Nina Yoshida Nelsen (Zoe), Corinne Winters (Monica), Cynthia Cook (Sabina), Colleen Daly (Agata), Olivia Vote (Lucilla), Jan Cornelius (Silvana), Carla Dirlikov (Agnese), Michael Fabiano (Donello), Josué Cerón (Basilio), Jeremy Paul Milner (L’Esorcista), Ben Wager (Il Vescovo), Voce (Noah Van Niel)
Christofer Macatsoris (conductor)

Jan Cornelius (© Paul Sirochman)

Most concert opera performances find the singers standing behind music stands with their heads buried in the score. Music stands were banished from the stage of the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater when the Academy of Vocal Arts introduced Ottorino Respighi’s La Fiamma to Philadelphia. Guided by Christofer Macatsoris’ urgent baton, the cast caught the gripping power of Respighi’s portrayal of adultery and witchcraft in 7th century Ravenna. Macatsoris caught the deep, dark colors in Respighi’s score and exploited the instrumental details in a tautly paced performance. The singers caught the dramatic sweep and lyrical intensity of Respighi’s music.

The performance commemorated the 75th anniversary of the 1934 premiere of La Fiamma in Rome with a cast headed by Giuseppina Cobelli and Carlo Tagliabue. Frequently performed in the 1930s, Respighi’s opera slipped from the repertory after World War II. This big, late-romantic score portrays a woman trapped in a loveless marriage. Silvana longs for passion to enter her life. When she discovers her mother used witchcraft to force Basilio into marrying her, Silvana casts a spell that summons her husband’s son, Donello, into her arms. After Basilio suffers a fatal heart attack, Silvana is condemned in the trial scene that caps the opera. The power of Respighi’s opera emerged despite cuts of several choral scenes.

Jan Cornelius made a memorable Silvana. Her tautly focused soprano soared through the testing vocal lines and opened up to thrilling effect on top. She commanded the bare stage with authority. At the climax of the scene of witchcraft, Cornelius haunted the eye and ear as she summoned Donello (Michael Fabiano) and then, slowly moving backwards as if in a trance, led him offstage. The soprano and tenor caught the erotic undertones in their third-act love duet. Fabiano matched the passion in the soprano’s voice as his vibrant tenor rang out ecstatically.
Josué Cerón’s baritone opened up with thrilling impact in the climaxes of Basilio’s music, but his voice lacked weight and color in its lower range. Jessica Julin unfurled a big, throbbing mezzo-soprano in Eudossia’s impassioned vocal lines. As Silvana’s confidante, Monica, Corinne Winters sustained the testing vocal lines with a shining soprano. Carla Dirlikov caught the anguish in Agnese’s brief scenes. At the end, the audience showered applause and cheers on the soloists and conductor. Also earning plaudits were two basses, Jeremy Paul Milner (L’Esorcista) and Ben Wager (Il Vescova), and soprano Colleen Daly (Agata) and mezzos Nina Yoshida Nelsen (Zoe) and Olivia Vote (Lucilla).

Robert Baxter



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