[Met Performance] CID:186950

New Production

Metropolitan Opera House, Thu, January 26, 1961

Debut : Lilias Sims, Thomas Andrew

In English

Martha (93)
Friedrich von Flotow | Friedrich Wilhelm Riese
Lady Harriet
Victoria de los Angeles

Richard Tucker

Rosalind Elias

Giorgio Tozzi

Sir Tristram
Lorenzo Alvary

Gerhard Pechner

Mildred Allen

Teresa Stratas

Thelma Votipka

Walter Hemmerly

Arthur Backgren

Lou Marcella

John Frydel

Farmer's Wife
Lilias Sims [Debut]

Queen of England
Nancy King

Nino Verchi

Carl Ebert

Set Designer
Oliver Smith

Costume Designer

Thomas Andrew [Debut]

Translation by Ronell
Martha received twenty performances this season.

Production a gift of The Metropolitan Opera Guild

Review 1:

Review of Robert Sabin the February 1961 issue of Musical America

No, Rudolf Bing is not opening next season with "The Chimes of Normandy" starring Birgit Nilsson, but he did revive Flotow's "Martha," happily not heard at the Metropolitan since Nov. 28, 1928, in an extremely expensive and lavish production. The only shabby thing about the whole business, in fact, was the music. It was shocking to see this flimsy little vaudeville in 1961 at the nation's leading opera house. Even if the revival had been in better taste and a more appropriate style, it still would have been artistically outrageous.

No one expected the Metropolitan to revive "Martha" as originally written. (It was a rehash, in the first place). After all, what are producers for, if not to improve on the originals, cutting here and adding there, changing the period of the setting, and generally showing the composer how little he really understood his business? It must be granted, however, that 'Martha" has suffered less than some other works that have undergone the ordeal of a Metropolitan revival.

In fact, the author of the English adaptation Ann Ronell demanded that her name he left off the program, because the Metropolitan insisted on adhering more closely to the original libretto than she had. Since Miss Ronell's version is slangy, Broadwayish and generally commonplace, it is just as well that her name was not mentioned.

Carl Ebert has created an elaborate, "busy" production that is inevitably a bit top heavy, but never deadly. Such episodes as that in which Lady Harriet and her attendant disrobe on stage would have made our grandfathers raise their eyebrows, but one can chalk them up to 20th century improvement.

Oliver Smith's settings are certainly colorful and expensive-looking. But I wish that he would get away from his candy-box-cover style and do a bit more with light and space and line. Motley's costumes were flavorsome, if something of a mishmash of styles. The setting has been advanced to the early 19th century from the reign of Queen Ann. In this version the Queen (Victoria?) actually appears on a horse and rides across the stage.

My favorite performer was Matilda, the mare, who obviously felt about this revival just as I did. Matilda has previously appeared in "Manon Lescaut" with impeccable behavior, but on this occasion she let her emotions carry her away. After she was hitched to Plunkett's wagon, to take the two girls home to the farm, she began struggling with the grooms who were guiding her and almost pulled the vehicle with its precious quartet of artists into the orchestra pit. Before being dragged off stage, she launched some superb high kicks. Miss de los Angeles and Miss Elias were seated on the tailboard and could not see what was going on, but Mr. Tozzi and Mr. Tucker must have had some tense moments, though they did not betray it.

Of the singers, Miss de los Angeles, of course, was the most exquisite. In superb voice, apart from some edgy top tones, she made the most of the music both in her florid solos and in the ensembles. Her "Last Rose of summer" was enough to melt the heart of anyone, let alone Lionel. Her English was not always easy to understand but her vocal production was a model, as always. Oddly enough, she was easier to follow than Miss Elias, who had trouble in keeping words clear and in focusing tone in passages of rapid delivery. Only in her solo in the last act did Miss Elias really do herself justice.

Mr. Tucker, who has been singing superbly this season in other works, was a great disappointment as Lionel. Had he been singing Siegfried's "Forging Song" or the "Wälse, Wälse," he could not have produced more stentorian tones. The result was fatal to whatever charm the music still possesses. Of course, the groundlings loved to have their ears split and gave him one ovation after another, but for those of us who have marked his artistic growth in recent years it was an unhappy occasion.

Mr. Tozzi, performing quite frankly in musical comedy style, was a lovable Plunkett and brought down the house with his drinking song. Mr. Alvary and Mr. Pechner, though a bit central

European for their English setting, offered vivid characterizations. The rest of the cast all worked hard.

Mr. Andrew's choreography was not very good. It did not blend with the surrounding action. The dancers kept repeating a few showy steps and lifts and always seemed dragged in by the ears. He could learn some invaluable lessons in taste and stylistic appropriateness from Antony Tudor, who is at the Metropolitan anyway.

And last, and almost least, Mr. Verchi conducted with a haste and lack of breathing space that made the music seem even more flimsy and humdrum. One could not blame him for feeling that the score was a waste of time (if he did) but one could blame him for letting it sound that way!

This production was made possible by the Metropolitan Opera Guild and the premiere was a benefit for the Guild. We all owe the Guild so much for what it has done for opera that certainly shall not hold "Martha" against it.

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