Though its popularity has sadly diminished over the years, up to about the middle of the last century Martha was one of the most frequently performed operas on the German stage -- largely owing to the great tenor Enrico Caruso's acclaimed portrayal of Lyonel, a role which he repeated all over the world. The work is one of about 30 operas written by Friedrich von Flotow, and indeed it was through Martha that the German composer achieved lasting fame. Only a decade after its first performance, and Martha has already been performed as far afield as Algiers, San Francisco and Sydney.
The seed of the opera can be found in the pastiche ballet Lady Harriette, whose Act 1 Flotow was commissioned by the Paris Opéra to write in 1844. Set in Richmond, England, during the reign of Queen Anne, the plot centres around Lady Harriet Durham who, tired of court life, decides to have some fun by visiting the local fair with her foppish cousin Lord Tristan and maid Nancy. Disguised as servant girls, both she and Nancy hire themselves off to the rich farmer Plumkett and his foster brother Lyonel (whose origins are unknown, the only vestige being a ring which his father left him and which he should present to the queen if ever he is in danger) -- only to be wooed by the two men, who have each fallen for the maid and her lady respectively. When the next day Queen Anne is out hunting with Lady Harriet and her court, a chance encounter with Lyonel sees him make claim to his 'maid', and he is subsequently arrested, having been declared insane by Harriet and Lord Tristan. But when his ring is brought to the queen, Harriet is told that he is in fact the son of the unjustly banished Early of Derby, and she rushes back to the farm to relay the news and to ask for Lyonel's hand in marriage. Lyonel at first angrily rejects her, but a replica of Richmond Fair sees the initial encounter between the four characters renewed, giving rise to jubilant celebrations.
Made in Berlin in 1944 while Germany was still in a state of 'total war', this recording remains one of the most acclaimed interpretations of the opera. Comprising some of the best singers of that generation, it is astutely conducted by Johannes Schüler -- to whose credit the Staatsoper was able to rebuild its repertoire after 1945 -- and thus represents an invaluable addition to Brilliant Classics' ever-growing opera collection.
- Historical recording of the grand German-Romantic opera Martha by Friedrich von Flotow, made in 1944 at the Funkhaus an der Masurenallee in Berlin.
- One of the best ever recordings of this highly attractive opera, starring great German singers like Erna Berger, Else Tegetthoff and Peter Anders.
- Sonics are surprisingly good (considering the circumstances), the booklet contains extensive liner notes on the music, the history of this particular performance and a synopsis.
- Includes detailed notes on the music and production as well as a synopsis.