Martha

Friedrich von Flotow
Opera South
Haslemere Hall
(2009)

Production graphic

Familiar to Austrian and German audiences, Friedrich von Flotow's tuneful comic opera Martha is rarely heard in this country, which makes it the more surprising that in the past 22 years it has twice been staged in the intimate English setting of Haslemere Hall where it was enjoyed by full houses this week, thanks to the enterprise of Opera South.

Of course, British companies seldom perform our own work - when did you last see Edward German or Ivor Novello? So it is perhaps small wonder that we see very little of German or Viennese operetta in this country. Without The Merry Widow or Die Fledermaus, the breed would be almost extinct in this tiny corner of Europe!

Yet Flotow's Martha contains much to delight anyone with a love of music and an ear for a good tune. And it is bristling with material to challenge the good musician and the talented singer. Which is where Opera South have found, and taken, their opportunity.

Many of the soloists and instrumentalists in productions at Haslemere over the past twenty years have risen from newly qualified student to soloist at Covent Garden, Glyndebourne and the national operas.

And Martha in its hundred odd years has embraced such distinguished soloists as Adeliena Patti, Anneliese Rothenberger, Fritz Wunderlich and Gotlob Frick.

This month's soloists included Clare Surman (Lady Harriet) who was Helena in the 2002 Glyndebourne A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Stephanie Lewis (Nancy) a much sought after soloist on concert platforms of Smith Square and the Albert Hall. In the role of Plunkett is baritone Anthony Cleverton who created the role of Hades for Glyndebourne's Ghosts. The romantic role of Lionel is taken by the fine young lyric tenor Tom Raskin who has sung regularly in the London Hanover Festival at St John's, Hanover Square.

All four soloists thrive in the intimate atmosphere of this charming public hall and are in top form in the Act 2 quartet "Midnight" though the highlight of the entire evening which captivates the audience, the evergreen "Last Rose of Summer", an Irish folksong which Flotow incorporated in a bid to capture the spirit of English country music.

Cleverton simply revels in the Act 3 drinking song, a popular feature of many German operettas, while Raskin stirs the enthusiastic house with the famous lament for Martha.

The show is brought to a rousing conclusion with a reprise of "The Last Rose of Summer", led by soloists and finishing in a full chorus, which brings the house down!

Production is by Tom Hawkes, whose work has been seen at ENO's Coliseum, and who also designed the very workmanlike settings.

Musical direction is by Tom Higgins, former member of the orchestra at ENO who has worked also in Berlin and Dresden. And the excellent Guildford Philharmonic orchestra is led by Matthew Scrivener.

Opera South is to be commended for their regular production of gems from the light operatic repertoire.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole