New libretto for 'Martha' delightfully premiered at UCO
Friedrich von Flotow's 1847 comic German opera “Martha,” written about aristocrats in England, has been delightfully revived, with a newly minted libretto by University of Central Oklahoma School of Music Assistant Director Rob Glaubitz and Assistant Show Director Megan Guerra.
Recently performed by the UCO School of Music, the story has been updated and moved from Richmond, England, in the 1710s to Richmond, Virginia, in the 1950s. The blatant classism and sexism were thoughtfully removed; although some sexist and classist elements remained, the humor poked fun at them rather than suggesting some level of validity.
In this version, Harriet and Nancy, two society ladies seeking amusement, visited the Virginia State Fair using the pseudonyms “Martha” and “Julia,” and found themselves contracted as maidservants to two farmer brothers who needed women to cook, clean, and sew for them. Under Glaubitz's successful direction, romantic attachments, bovine commentary, and assorted comic mayhem ensued. This libretto and performance were perfect elements to introduce opera to new audiences.
Megan Guerra sang the role of Harriet, who pretends to be “Martha” on a whim, with verve and élan. Guerra portrayed the spoiled rich girl, looking for a husband who has the right kind of money and connections, as a superficially brittle character who nonetheless had a warm and compassionate heart. Her voice was a versatile soprano; she was capable of singing a wide range of vocal colors. Harriet's resistance to her own feelings for Lionel was played with an entirely appropriate petulance.
Alisha Beleele sang the role of Nancy, originally a “saucy servant” part. In this new libretto, she is a friend and confidante of Harriet with equal social status. Beleele's voice had the dark flavor of chocolate and raspberries, which she combined with the piquancy of the part to great effect. Her Nancy was quite believably unrestrained in her attraction to Plunkett, the elder brother.
Sean Steele as Lionel delivered an earnest and tenderhearted farm lad. He towered over Guerra, yet his demeanor avoided any sense of power or demand — critical in this modern adaptation. Lionel is a young man of devotion and good character; Steele sang and acted these qualities to great effect. He was a powerful tenor with a wide emotional and vocal range that served the character and the story very well.
Zachary DeVault sang the role of Plunkett, the elder brother and friend of cows. His lighter baritone blended well with both Steele and Beleele, neither overpowering nor surrendering to either. Plunkett's interactions with Nancy take him on an emotional roller coaster, which DeVault portrayed skillfully.
Bryndan Robinson, as cousin Tristram, who behaves in a rather proprietary manner toward Harriet, and Troy Anthony Small, as the Sheriff, were both well performed. The chorus was delightfully supportive, and Patty the Cow was remarkably expressive.
The new libretto had some spoken parts, but these can unfortunately get lost in Mitchell Hall's bizarre acoustics where anything not directed straight downstage seems to die on the boards. Nonetheless, the story was clear, the performances were more than good, and the sets by Kristy Benson with costumes by Alyssa Couturier did a wonderful job of creating time and place without taking energy and focus away from the story.
For a complete listing of UCO College of Fine Arts and Design events and performances, go to cfad.uco.edu.
— Anna Holloway,
for The Oklahoman