Flamma Flamma - The Fire Requiem is a musical work by Nicholas Lens. It is the first part of the operatic trilogy The Accacha Chronicles. The work was artistically and financially produced by the composer himself and gained international fame when Sony Classical bought the rights in 1994 for worldwide distribution.
In 14 sections, the somber score combines orchestra, chorus and six operatic voices that contrast with the eerie tonalities of three female nasal-natural singers .
With its visceral strength and sustained emotional drive, Flamma Flamma has won a loyal worldwide audience and international critical favor.
According to Time magazine, “Contemporary classical compositions are breaking down the established divisions between popular and so-called serious music. Among recordings, notable crossovers include Polish composer Henryk Górecki's Symphony No. 3 and British minimalist Michael Nyman's score for the 1993 film The Piano. This year's hit is Flamma Flamma by Belgium's Nicholas Lens. In 14 sections, the somber score combines orchestra, chorus and six operatic voices that contrast with the eerie tonalities of three singers from the women's choir Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares. With its visceral strength and sustained emotional drive, Flamma Flamma has won a loyal audience and critical favor. Lens observed a funeral ritual in Papua New Guinea and was struck by the treatment in non-Western religions of death as central to life. He picked up ethnic elements from his travels around the world, and merged them into this powerful requiem that embraces death and sets free the soul.
The American actor Frank Sheppard (picture) performed the part of the Gédé at the first creation of Flamma Flamma in a spookey abbey in Mechelen, Belgium in 1993. In 1998 Flamma Flamma was created with 2.000 participants for an audience of 30.000 people in Adelaide, Australia at the opening night of the Adelaide Festival of Arts at Eldery Park (Festival intendant: Robin Archer). fLamma fLamma (1995) is the title of a short film based on the titletrack of Flamma Flamma by N. Lens, directed by Jan Bultheel, produced by Pix & Motion. The film was shown on MTV and Arte. It was the first time Sony Classical had a music track of one of his artists playing on the popular MTV-channel. Today, the video for "Flamma Flamma" still gets sporadic airplay on MTV European's late night eclectic show "Chill Out Zone".
The score has been used a numerous times for art-firework-performances and hundreds of dance and ballet creations all over the world. Lens, who considers himself (in interviews) more a fan of severe contemporary dance and moving theatre (Lens is Belgian born and has been influenced by the contemporary Flemish-Belgian dance scene), was not always happy with these adaptations. More than ten years after the original creation Nicholas Lens rewrote the score completely. This new, operatic and more extended and purely acoustic version, which seems far more complex in rhythm and tonality (read: a-tonality), -published in 2005 by Schott Music International (Mainz/New York) as first part of 'The Accacha Chronicles'- did not premiere yet.
In 1995 Sony Classical USA released an American cover version of the work. Sony Classical USA considered that the European cover, based on the labyrinth of Chartres (France), (originally a huge painting by the Japanese/Belgian artist Peter Bal) was too intellectual and arty for the American market. The American cover with the doubled androgynous angel face was designed by the New York artist Amy Guip. The change of cover was criticised in the American press.
"To me, the one thing that makes life bearable is the knowledge that it will come to an end, because accepting this is the only way to unconditionally and freely enjoy life. It has taken me many long journeys, both physically and mentally, to reach this obvious insight.
For the first part of ‘The Accacha Chronicles’ I wrote Flamma Flamma -The Fire Requiem as a ritual, strongly influenced by the magic powers of non-European cultures. It is simply the expression of a notion of death as being a natural part of the cosmic life process.
The natural quality of primitive death ceremonials often sharply contrasts with the over-organized and therefore spiritually weakened ceremonials of the Western world. The six classical vocal soloists symbolize six gods or the higher awareness of man. They reflect in a philosophical and intellectual manner on the human emotionality relating to death. Musically, I almost have them court death. They point out that all positive aspects of fire, i.e. light, warmth and passion produce a salutary effect at the cosmic transition. A small choir of three natural voices represent the lamenting and scornful women who ridicule death and freely comment on it, since death doesn’t concern them, yet. They take pleasure in musically disturbing the gods in their sublime state. The anonymous mixed choir imitates and reinforces bits and pieces of what it intercepts from the six gods. It reflects and accepts without prejudice everything the six gods think and sing.
In the original live performance I introduced the Gédé, a Haitian voodoo master who dotes on everything that has to do with death. He lives in a perpetual state of trance, floating between cosmic bliss and earthly limitations. He dances on graves, laughs in the faces of sad mourners and mocks death in all its facets. Then -with an empty look in his eyes- he comes down in his own closed nether world of magic. His territory is the cemetery. He almost permanently hangs out there, often half possessed, sometimes bitterly serious, occasionally even funny. In ‘Flamma Flamma’ the gédé is initially portrayed as an occidental master of ceremonies; thens as a precursor of death an at times as death itself. In a theatrical manner, he arranges the emotional chaos and spits out bits and pieces of text through which he indicates the proper conversational topics. The others speak an obsolete language; only he can be understood. Gradually, he is swept away by the emotions of the ritual and eventually regains his magic powers.
The Fire Requiem is a quest for harmony between contrasting elements: the highly-skilled classical vocal soloists as opposed to the raw, unpolished natural voices; the natural bridge-building between diametrically opposed styles and eras; the acceptance of the blending of rich, old, but weary European culture with the strength and often surprising freshness of primitive cultures.