04 Dec 2005

FLOTOW: Martha — Berlin 1944

Martha, an opera in four acts.

Music composed by Friedrich von Flotow. Libretto by Wilhelm Friedrich.

First performance: 25 November 1847 at Theater an der Wien, Vienna.

Principal Characters:

Lady Harriet Durham, Maid of Honor to Queen Anne Soprano
Nancy, her maid Alto
Lord Tristan Mickleford, her cousin Bass
Lyonel Tenor
Plumkett, a rich leaseholder Bass

Time and Place:

During the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14). At the palace of Lady Harriet in Richmond.


Act I

Lady Harriet Durham, a maid-of-honour to Queen Anne, is so tired of Court life, and so sick of her many insipid admirers, she retires to the country. But she becomes bored so she decides to attend the fair at Richmond where girls hire themselves out as servants. For a laugh, she and her confidante Nancy masquerade as maidservants. Her foppish old cousin, Sir Tristan another admirer whom she terms a bore, accompanies them. Harriet manages to lose her escort, and then, she and Nancy stand in the line of girls waiting to be hired. Two young farmers, Lyonel and Plumkett, are looking for a couple of wenches to do their housework and being struck by the beauty and charm of the two masqueraders, proceed to hire them. Lady Harriet giving her name as Martha. The girls are soon dismayed to find they are legally bound to their new masters for a year. Sir Tristan is unable to retrieve them from their fate.

Act II

Quickly both farmers fall for their new maidservants — Lyonel for Harriet and Plumkett for Nancy. Harriet feels that Lyonel is of higher station than he appears. He is an orphan who was left with Plumkett's parents in early childhood. The new maids are totally inept at their tasks, which infuriates Plumkett. Finally, the new maids are told to go to bed, but escape through the window, with the aid of Sir Tristan. The young farmers are distressed and angry loss of their maids, and Lyonel's grief is so great that he falls into a melancholy state.


Wandering in the forest, Lyonel meets a royal hunting party and recognises Lady Harriet. He declares his love for her, but she rebuffs him. Lyonel reminds her of her contract to serve him for a year. She tells the party the young man is mad, and Sir Tristan supports her declaration. Orders are given to imprison the young man. Lyonel has a ring his father gave him, saying if he was ever in trouble he was to send the ring to the Queen. He begs his friend to take it to the court.

Act IV

The ring saves Lyonel. The Queen recognises it as that of a banished nobleman, whose innocence since been proved. Lady Harriet is now willing to accept his courtship as there is no longer a class difference to stand between them. She is filled with remorse for the way she has treated him. She reveals to him his true identity and tells him that his estate will be restored but he is blinded by anger with Harriet for the injustice she did him and refuses to accept her love. To win him back Harriet and Nancy return to the fair once again dressed as country wenches. When Plumkett brings Lyonel to the fair and points out the two pretty serving-maids, Lyonel realises he does love Harriet. He embraces her, and they agree to marry, as do Plumkett and Nancy.

Click here for the complete libretto.