Opera Daily 🎶 — Martha

Today we’re listening to…

“M’appari, (originally known as “Ach, so fromm”) Lionel’s aria from Act III of the romantic comic opera Martha by Friedrich von Flotow. Thank you to one of our OD subscribers, Paul Allerding, for reminding me of this opera. For many years Martha was perceived as an Italian opera, but it is German (the history of both Martha and “M’appari” is complicated, so feel free to reach out if you want to learn more). We are profiling Luciano Pavarotti singing the Italian version of the tenor aria below and Jonas Kaufman, a German tenor, who does an excellent job with the original German version. Placido Domingo also sings this one beautifully, which you can listen to here.

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Martha's time and place is early 18th century England during the reign of Queen Anne (at the palace of Lady Harriet).

Lady Harriet and her maid Nancy are looking for a bit of adventure. They disguise themselves (as “Martha” and “Julia”) and go to the Richmond Fair, where two young farmers, Lionel and Plunkett, hire them as servants (and you guessed it, eventually fall in love with them 😂). Regretting their impulsive decision, Harriet and Nancy escape back to their previous lives. Later, when they go hunting in their normal (aristocratic) outfits, they are seen and recognized by the men but refuse to acknowledge them. After seeing “Martha” again, now as Lady Harriet, Lionel sings how he is struck again by her beauty and grieves that he will probably never be with her again (even though Lady Harriet realizes that she now loves Lionel). 

She appeared to me, purest of love.

I discovered with my eyes this vision of delight.

Lovely was she, that my hungry heart, in a snap, to her did fly;

I was hurt, I was charmed by that beauty from above.

Love is etched in my heart, and cannot now be erased.

The mere thought that our hearts with sweet love might beat as one

Is enough to forget all the sorrow that fills my heart.

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Conversation starters

  • The German version of “M’appari” is featured in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and is sung by Willy Wonka (played by Gene Wilder), during the “Wonka Wash” scene. The aria is also sung with guitar in the movie Breaking Away AND featured in the American version of The Office, during the sixth season episode “The Lover”.

  • Premiering on November 25, 1847, Martha is adapted from a ballet composed by Friedrich von Flotow titled “Harriette, ou la servant de Greenwiche.”

  • Flotow composed 30 operas in his life, and his “style drew from the music of his home country Germany, incorporating elements of German folk song, the Italian bel canto and the French habits of the composers he studied under and befriended.”

Thank you for listening,

Michele

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