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Friedrich von FLOTOW (1812-1883)
Martha - opera in four Acts (1847) [1:45:27]
Lady Harriet (Martha) – Victoria de los Angeles (soprano); Nancy (Julia) – Rosalind Elias (mezzo); Lionel – Richard Tucker (tenor); Plunket – Giorgio Tozzi (bass); Lord Tristram – Lorenzo Alvary (bass); Sheriff – Gerhard Pechner (bass)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Nino Verchi
rec. live Metropolitan Opera House, New York, 21 February 1961
COLUMNA MUSICA 1CMO160 [45:57 + 59:30]

 


Martha seems doomed to occupy a place on the outermost fringe of the repertoire in Britain. Even then its occasional performances occupy little critical or other attention. This is surely unjust, given music full of delight and invention and a plot which is a kind of first cousin to Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” in its depiction of rural life and minor deceptions. It offers few opportunities to producers wanting to make a name for themselves but plenty to singers willing to allow the charm of the music to speak naturally. Given this and its English setting, I have been hoping for a long time that Chandos might include it in its “Opera in English” series, but that seems unlikely and this did look like a good substitute. It is, however, nothing of the kind, and overall does no sort of justice to the opera.

Problems start with the text. Maybe the opera is at times a little slow moving, but that is no excuse for the kind of wholesale butchery practised here. The notes refer to “some cuts being made to the score”, but almost every number has such long sections removed that their original shape is unrecognizable. To add insult to injury a short ballet is added between the two scenes of the first Act for no obvious reason. The opera is sung in an English version by Ann Ronell. Its quality can be measured from such couplets as:

“He is working like a demon;

You can tell his temper’s steamin’.”

Unfortunately the diction of most of the singers enables much of it to be heard. No text or translations are included but there are good notes about the singers and the opera, and an adequate synopsis.

The reason for the issue of the discs is that it is apparently the only recording of the title role by Victoria de los Angeles. She is indeed its great glory, singing with a sense of style and a beauty of tone and phrasing that is certainly worth hearing. It is hard to believe the notes when they say that it was the only opera which she was hesitant about singing. Perhaps she knew the kind of perversion which she might be asked to perform. Her singing of “The last rose of summer” and her duets with Richard Tucker are the high points of this recording, and they do indeed just about justify the issue of the rest. Despite a reputation as a somewhat solid and unsubtle singer Tucker too is worth hearing, singing with unexpected ardour, sensitivity and flexibility.

The rest of the cast range from the adequate (Elias), to the coarse, (Alvary), and the very coarse (Tozzi). The chorus, when their part has not been cut, all too often sound ragged and out of tune. The orchestra are better, being clearly well drilled in what the conductor expects of them. Unfortunately this often appears to be an approach more suited to musicals than to an opera which responds well to a more refined approach. The spinning quartet is marked Allegretto non troppo but is taken so fast that its charm is wholly lost. At the other extreme Lionel’s “Ach, so fromm” is marked Allegro moderato but is taken at an andante, despite Tucker’s apparent attempts to speed it up whenever possible.

When all of this is taken together with a recording which is at best dim and often worse, and prone to changes of pitch in held notes, it is clear that you would have to be a very fervent admirer of de los Angeles to buy this set. When I listen to her singing I think that I might be inclined to join them, but should warn that a strong stomach is needed for much of the rest.

John Sheppard

 

 

 

 


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