Martha (opera)

Operas by Friedrich von Flotow

Alessandro Stradella (1844)
Martha (1847)

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Martha, oder Der Markt zu Richmond (Martha, or The Market at Richmond) is a 'romantic comic' opera in four acts by Friedrich von Flotow, set to a German libretto by Friedrich Wilhelm Riese and based on a story by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges.

Flotow had composed the first act of a ballet, Harriette, ou la servante de Greenwiche, derived from a text by Saint-Georges, for the ballerina Adèle Dumilâtre. This was first performed by the Paris Opera Ballet at the Salle Le Peletier on 21 February 1844. The time available for the composition was short, so the second and third acts were assigned, respectively, to Friedrich Burgmüller and Édouard Deldevez. The opera Martha was an adaptation of this ballet.[1]


Critical appreciation

According to Gustav Kobbé, Martha, though written by a native of Mecklenburg and first performed in Vienna, is French in character and elegance. Flotow was French in his musical training, as were both the origins of both the plot and the score of this work, effectively in the tradition of Auber.[1] (Flotow studied composition in Paris under Reicha, 1827–1830, and having left on account of the July revolution returned there from 1835–1848, and again from 1863-1868.)

Performance history

The first performance of Martha took place at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna on 25 November 1847. Other early productions followed in Weimar (16 February 1848), Dresden (1 March 1848), Leipzig (1 March 1848), and Berlin (7 March 1848). It was performed in Budapest in Hungarian (11 July 1848) and in Prague in German (24 March 1849) and in Czech (17 February 1850). There were several early productions in London, the first in German at Drury Lane (4 June 1849), followed by one in Italian at Covent Garden (1 July 1858) and another in English at Drury Lane (11 October 1858).[2]

Anna Bishop

In the United States, it was produced in English at Niblo's Garden in New York on 1 November 1852 with Anna Bishop,[3] and New Orleans on 27 January 1860, in French.[4] It had its first Australian performance in Melbourne on 24 June 1856.[5] It was first performed in France in Italian by the Théâtre-Italien at the Salle Ventadour in Paris on 11 February 1858 and in French at several provincial theatres beginning in December 1858 and at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris on 18 December 1865. According to T. J. Walsh numerous editions of Kobbé's Opera Book have incorrectly given the date of the first performance at the Théâtre Lyrique as 16 December 1865. He also states that Kobbé's information that the aria "M'appari" (from Flotow's opera L'âme en peine) was first inserted at that theatre is also incorrect, that it was sung by Mario at the Théâtre-Italien in 1858 and is also found (as "Ach! so fromm") in an early (probably 1848) Vienna edition of the score in the British Library and was probably always a part of the opera. The confusion may have arisen from further alterations made by the Théâtre Lyrique's director, Léon Carvalho, which included the insertion in Act 4 of Flotow's baritone aria "Depuis le jour j'ai paré ma chaumière" (also from L'âme en peine).[6]

In 1877, at the Royal Italian Opera in Covent Garden, Victor Capoul performed as Lyonel, with Francesco Graziani (baritone) as Plumkett and Sofia Scalchi as Nancy.[7]

The popularity of Martha received a fresh boost in 1906 when it was staged at the New York Metropolitan Opera in a production that featured the great tenor Enrico Caruso, singing in Italian. Caruso would perform the role of Lyonel many times during subsequent seasons and record extracts from the Italian version of the opera. Recent productions in the United Kingdom have included those by Opera South in 1986 and 2009[8] and Bel Canto Opera in 2002.[9] Those in the U.S have included Michigan Opera Theatre in 1985.[10]

Musical content

The overture itself is among von Flotow's most appreciated works. It begins with a slow A minor introduction, but changes suddenly to an A major theme (that of Lyonel's prayer in Act 3, "Mag der Himmel Euch vergeben"). It reverts to A minor with a busy, agitated motif, representing Lady Harriet and Nancy bustling about, leading into the C major peasant girls' chorus theme from Act 1. Then the agitated theme returns, but now in the major key of A. It leads without further modulation back to the Lyonel's prayer motif, and so the overture ends. The fluctuations of light and shade are reminiscent of Schubertian scoring, or of Weber (e.g. Der Freischütz overture): but without modulation into remote tonalities, they never really portend a tragic conclusion.

Though the powerful overture hints at a darker outcome, the opera ends happily. The heroine's levity and Lyonel's sincerity are its themes. The dramatic music, as between Lyonel and Harriet in Act 4, is weighty, while the scoring of the comic scenes is also (but differently) effective. In his own idiom, like Mozart in Don Giovanni or Verdi in Un ballo in maschera, von Flotow could build convivial music into a tragic dramatic context.

The Thomas Moore traditional Irish melody The Last Rose of Summer, introduced for Martha in Act 2, was a successful inclusion.[11] Popular airs were then often introduced informally to operas as show-pieces by sopranos, for example 'Home, Sweet Home' in the lesson scene of The Barber of Seville.[12] Singers such as Jenny Lind or Adelina Patti made much of them. In Martha the custom is formally perpetuated, and the melody then appears as a leitmotif to represent Lyonel's longing. The opera has many original melodies, including fine duet and quartet concerted numbers and several solo arias. However the most famous, 'M'appari' ('Ach, so fromm'), Lyonel's Act 3 romanza, was not originally written for this opera but for Flotow's L'âme en peine (produced by the Paris Opera in 1846).[13]


Role Voice type Premiere Cast,
25 November 1847
Lady Harriet Durham, maid of honor to Queen Anne ('Martha') soprano Anna Zerr
Nancy, her servant ('Julia') mezzo-soprano Therese Schwarz
Plunkett, a young farmer bass Karl Johann Formes
Lyonel, his foster brother tenor Joseph Erl
Sir Tristan Mickleford, Lady Harriet's cousin (Farmer Bob) bass Carl Just
Sheriff bass Alois Ander
Queen Anne mute
Chorus: Courtiers, pages, ladies, hunters, farmers


Time: 1710.
Place: Richmond, England.

Act 1

Lady Harriet Durham, a maid-of-honour to Queen Anne, is so tired of Court life, and so sick of her many insipid admirers, she retires to the country. But she becomes bored so she decides to attend the fair at Richmond where girls hire themselves out as servants. For a laugh, she and her confidante Nancy masquerade as maidservants. Her foppish old cousin, Sir Tristan another admirer whom she terms a bore, accompanies them. Harriet manages to lose her escort, and then, she and Nancy stand in the line of girls waiting to be hired. Two young farmers, Lyonel and Plumkett, are looking for a couple of wenches to do their housework and being struck by the beauty and charm of the two masqueraders, proceed to hire them. Lady Harriet giving her name as Martha. The girls are soon dismayed to find they are legally bound to their new masters for a year. Sir Tristan is unable to retrieve them from their fate.

Act 2

Quickly both farmers fall for their new maidservants — Lyonel for Harriet and Plumkett for Nancy. Harriet feels that Lyonel is of higher station than he appears. He is an orphan who was left with Plumkett's parents in early childhood. The new maids are totally inept at their tasks, which infuriates Plumkett. Finally, the new maids are told to go to bed, but escape through the window, with the aid of Sir Tristan. The young farmers are distressed and angry loss of their maids, and Lyonel's grief is so great that he falls into a melancholy state.

Act 3

Wandering in the forest, Lyonel meets a royal hunting party and recognises Lady Harriet. He declares his love for her, but she rebuffs him. Lyonel reminds her of her contract to serve him for a year. She tells the party the young man is mad, and Sir Tristan supports her declaration. Orders are given to imprison the young man. Lyonel has a ring his father gave him, saying if he was ever in trouble he was to send the ring to the Queen. He begs his friend to take it to the court.

Act 4

The ring saves Lyonel. The Queen recognises it as that of a banished nobleman, whose innocence has since been proved. Lady Harriet is now willing to accept his courtship as there is no longer a class difference to stand between them. She is filled with remorse for the way she has treated him. She reveals to him his true identity and tells him that his estate will be restored but he is blinded by anger with Harriet for the injustice she did him and refuses to accept her love. To win him back Harriet and Nancy return to the fair once again dressed as country wenches. When Plumkett brings Lyonel to the fair and points out the two pretty serving-maids, Lyonel realises he does love Harriet. He embraces her, and they agree to marry, as do Plumkett and Nancy.

Noted arias, duets, ensembles

  • "Ach! so fromm, ach! so traut (M’apparì tutt’amor)" (Lyonel)
  • "Blickt sein Aug"
  • "Lasst mich euch fragen (Porter-Lied)" Drinking Song (Plunkett)
  • "Letzte Rose (The Last Rose of Summer)" (Martha, later with Lyonel)
  • "Mag der Himmel Euch vergeben (Lyonel's Prayer)"
  • "Schlafe wohl! Und mag Dich reuen (Good Night Quartet)"
  • "Was soll ich dazu sagen? (Spinning-Wheel Quartet)"



  • Schüler/Berger/Tegetthof/Anders/Fuchs, 1944, live in Berlin, Opera d’Oro
  • Rother/Berger/—/Anders/Fuchs, 1951, Urania
  • Molinari-Pradelli/Rizzieri/Tassinari/Tagliavini/Tagliabue, 1953, Fonit Cetra
  • Klobucar/Rothenberger/Plümacher/Wunderlich/Frick, 1960, excerpts EMI
  • Verchi/Los Angeles/Elias/Tucker/Tozzi, 1961, live in New York, Celestial Audio
  • Heger/Rothenberger/Fassbaender/Gedda/Prey, 1968, EMI
  • Wilhelm Schüchter/Köth?/Steiner?/Schock?/Röhrl?, 1970?, incomplete, Eurodisc
  • Heinz Wallberg, conductor; Lucia Popp, Harriet; Doris Soffel, Nancy; Siegfried Jerusalem, Lyonel; Karl Ridderbusch, Plumkett; Siegmund Nimsgern; Chorus of the Bavarian Radio; Munich Radio Orchestra, 1977, RCA
  • Netopil/Reinprecht/Bönig/Jordi/Scharinger, 2003, live in Vienna, incomplete, ORF


  • Stein/Peacock/Steiner/Wolhers/Hillebrand, 1972 movie, Premiere Opera
  • Hauschild/Laki?/Meier?/Wolhers?/Berger-Tuna?, 1986, Stuttgart


  1. ^ a b Kobbé 1935, p.559.
  2. ^ Loewenberg 1978, columns 864–866.
  3. ^ Lawrence 1995, p. 319.
  4. ^ Kobbé, 1935.
  5. ^ Eric Irvin, Dictionary of the Australian Theatre 1788-1914
  6. ^ Walsh 1981, pp. 201–202.
  7. ^ The Times, May 15, 1877, The Operas. Royal Italian
  8. ^ Opera South past productions
  9. ^ Bel Canto Opera past productions
  10. ^ Operatic beagles are in demand. October 23, 1985. Lodi News-Sentinel. Accessed May 10, 2010
  11. ^ Rosenthal and Warrack, 1974, p. 215.
  12. ^ Rosenthal and Warrack, 1974, p. 182.
  13. ^ Kobbé, 1935, p.546.
  • Kobbé, Gustav (1935). The Complete Opera Book. Covent Garden, London: Putnam. Listing at WorldCat.
  • Lawrence, Vera Brodsky (1995). Strong on Music: The New York Musical Scene in the Days of George Templeton Strong. Volume II. Reverberations 1850–1856. Chicago: The University of Chicago Pres. ISBN 9780226470115.
  • Loewenberg, Alfred (1978). Annals of Opera 1597–1940 (third edition, revised). Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Littlefield. ISBN 9780874718515.
  • Walsh, T. J. (1981). Second Empire Opera: The Théâtre Lyrique Paris 1851–1870. New York: Riverrun Press. ISBN 9780714536590.

External links

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