by Friedrich von Flotow
with a new English libretto and stage direction by Tom Boyd - --Orchestra conducted by William Bell
CLICK ABOVE to watch the opening of ACT I xxxxxxxxx CLICK ABOVE to hear Martha sing The Last Rose of Summer
"Bel Cantos Martha captivates the audience. This witty Bel Canto Opera production by Tom Boyd teems with vitality...you should beat a path to see Martha". - -The Gloucestershire ECHO -- (click here for full review)
"That we now take certain things for granted in a Bel Canto production is a tribute to the standards of excellence the company has maintained down the years: Tom Boyd's witty and pertinent librettos and imaginative stagecraft, William Bell's musical direction, vocalists of national acclaim and so on. We have come to expect these high standards and they never let us down". The Wilts and Glos STANDARD
"When two bored society ladies disguise themselves as maids for a lark and join hoi polloi at Richmond Fair they are just asking for trouble. Two bachelor farmers hire them, and insist that they honour their contract to work for them for a year.
Frankly, the girls are not cut out for domestic chores, but Lady Harriet (alias Martha) has other talents. When she serenades Lionel with The Last Rose of Summer to the gentle harp accompaniment of Jemima Phillips, he succumbs to her musical charms.
Flotow's opera is an engaging mixture of musical styles and full of singable melodies. This witty Bel Canto Opera production by Tom Boyd (who also translated the libretto and designed the highly effective sets), teems with vitality, and William Bell conducts with his customary verve.
Amanda Boyd Bailey in the title role captivates everyone with her fine voice, while Stephen Crook is everything a girl could hope for as the love-sick Lionel.
Stephen Wells is splendid as his half-brother (sic) Plunkett, whether singing the praises of English ale or showing the hapless ladies how to spin. And Susan Black is hilarious as Marthas mischievous confidante.
Jayne Meekings colourful costumes, excellent chorus work and crisp, precise playing from the orchestra are three more good reasons why you should beat a path to see Martha when it opens at the Playhouse today and runs until Saturday"
Roger Jones - Gloucestershire ECHO
"That we now take certain things for granted in a Bel Canto production is a tribute to the standards of excellence the company has maintained down the years &endash; Tom Boyd's witty and pertinent librettos and imaginative stagecraft, William Bell's musical direction, vocalists of national acclaim and so on. We have come to expect these high standards and they never let us down. What has been new in their last two productions has been the capacity to unearth buried treasure from the operatic archives. Last year they produced a wonderful version of the seldom performed Lakme by Delibes and for their latest offering they have chosen something even more obscure, Martha by Friedrich von Flotow
Unlike most of their other full-length productions (Tosca, Rigoletto, Lakme) Martha is a romantic comedy. Two ladies-in-waiting at the court of Queen Anne seek fun and romantic adventure among the lower classes and are bought as servant girls by two likely looking yeoman farmers. Naturally they fall in love and after a few misadventures and the suggestion of broken hearts, all live happily ever after. The quartet of principals were excellent. Three of them were recruited from further afield and came with impressive portfolios. Amanda Boyd Bailey was utterly convincing as the bored, haughty yet vulnerable heroine and it was difficult to believe that her powerful soprano voice could emanate from such a slight frame. Her arias and duets were enchanting and she gave a wonderful rendering of the opera's best-known song "The Last Rose of Summer". Her leading man Stephen Crook with his conventional good looks and beautiful tenor voice provided the perfect foil. No less impressive were the other pair of lovers, Stephen Wells as the yeoman Plunkett and Sue Black as Nancy. Mr Wells' resounding baritone indicated a performer in complete control of his vocal and theatrical powers while Miss Black's portrayal of the flirtatious and shrewish Nancy very nearly stole the show. They provided a perfect comic counterpoint to the more harrowing exploits of the two principals and their "courtship" duet near the end of the show was an operatic masterpiece in which music, lyrics and performance came together in a delightful cameo of romantic comedy.
Other noteworthy performers were Tim Cranmore as the foppish courtier who accompanies the ladies on their adventures, and Edward Chetcuti as the Sheriff of Richmond. The choral work was wonderfully melodic, the choreography lively, the costumes rich and colourful and the sets authentic and convincing. The orchestra under William Bell as usual provided the perfect musical accompaniment.
Hopefully this review will appear in time to persuade people to take advantage of any tickets that may still be available for the Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances in Cheltenham's Playhouse theatre. For those who have seen Bel Canto before you will know what to expect. For those who haven't, you have a treat in store. Thank you Bel Canto for again introducing us to a work full of the most enchanting melodies, to singing of the highest quality and to a musical and dramatic spectacle to savour. Here's to the next one!
Stuart Russell - The Wilts and Glos STANDARD 18th February 2002
Tom Boyds libretto has also been used for a production of MARTHA by Haddo House Opera, Scotland, 2004
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