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Flotow's Martha and Wagner's Rienzi


Tiroler Landestheater, Innsbruck, June 2,3 2018


 Photographs by Rupert Larl courtesy of the Tiroler Landestheater, Innsbruck


Russell Burdekin recently visited Innsbruck and has sent the following report on the two operas he saw there: Flotow's Martha and Wagner's Rienzi.


Although Martha or at least its highlights are well known to most opera lovers its staging is now pretty much restricted  to Austria and Germany.  The director, Anette Leistenschneider, took the advantage of its British theme to look afresh at the opera in the light of current politics. The staging was brought into the 1950/1960's and we first see Lady Harriet bored with the endless flow of luxuries at which point Nancy, her companion, suggests the falling in love might be a solution, done using a cherub puppet sitting on Harriet's shoulder. This was the first and for me the best of several episodes with puppets. Sir Tristam (Tristan), her cousin and prospective suitor, turns up but their attention is soon drawn to a procession of maids on their way to the annual hiring market at Richmond and for a laugh they conceive the idea of joining them, donning rather extravagant and unmaid-like costumes. At the market, the farmer, Plumkett (or Plunkett) and his foster brother, Lyonel, decide to hire "Martha" and "Julia" and pay over their hiring fee. Eventually, the two women decide that they've had enough entertainment and make to go home but are informed that, as they've taken the money, they are bound for a year and have to return with Plumkett and Lyonel to their farm. Here they prove completely useless at various tasks and, perhaps surprisingly given the current climate, are given a spanking by the brothers who nevertheless quickly fall in love with them, in Lyonel's case helped by Martha's singing of "The last rose of summer".  Soon Sir Tristam turns up and the women make their escape leaving the brothers distraught when they find them gone.


Some time later, Lady Harriet is out hunting and meets the disconsolate Lyonel who recognises her. Despite having feelings for him she pretends that she doesn't know him. Here, for me, Leistenschneider made a misstep in her direction by having Lyonel dressed as a huntsman so glossing over the class distinction that is the basis of Harriet's rejection.  Lyonel becomes very upset and ends up being arrested but he gets Plumkett to take a ring to the Queen that was left with him when Plumkett's family took him in.  This shows that he is the son and heir of the wrongly convicted Earl of Derby and thus is of noble blood and so is able to marry Harriet although not after a certain amount of playing hard to get on his part. 


Susanne Langbein played and sung Harriet as to the manner born. Garrie Davislim was a suitably mopey Lyonel.  Andreas Mattersberger and Camilla Lehmeier provided outstanding support and the chorus threw themselves with gusto into the many opportunities given them. Everyone gave the impression of having the whale of a time which communicated itself to the audience. The orchestra both here, under Seokwon Hong, and in the Rienzi, under Lukas Beikircher, tended perhaps more towards the enthusiastic than the subtle but this music will take that. Two of the scene changes were covered by music not from the opera but, I assume, were other Flotow pieces.


Leistenschneider pushed the British (perhaps English would be more accurate) angle hard with many recognisable symbols (telephone boxes, policeman, judge,..)  liberally sprinkled throughout the production as can be seen from the photographs. There were also two rather larger and more incisive ideas. The overture was played with a huge Union Jack projected on a screen covering the stage. Intriguingly, it was the image of a somewhat dingy flag, one that had seen better days. More surprising was the finale. Immediately the music finished, the orchestra struck up  with Elgar's Land of Hope and Glory (which the audience clapped to in Proms fashion) and Sir Tristam with a bride he'd picked up along the way burst in at the back of the auditorium and proceeded down the centre aisle dispensing waves and handshakes that looked as though they'd been modelled on the recent royal wedding, although the production's premiere was prior to that. The couple made their way onto the stage where they waved back to the audience - Britain sailing off into the sunset. Altogether a really stimulating evening that left a poignant, critical but not unsympathetic picture of Britain and showed what a good director can bring to the party.




Rienzi was Wagner's third opera, his effort to match the grand opéra of Meyerbeer, Halévy and Donizetti. He later pretty much disowned it along with his first two operas. The opera is very long and is always given with cuts. Here they cut it very hard to around two and a half hours, which is over an hour less than the EMI recording, and the last two acts in particular seemed a bit perfunctory. It was given a vague 20th century military staging. The Irene (Josefine Weber) had a great voice (an obvious future Brünnhilde) but really didn't look the part  alongside Adriano (an outstanding Jennifer Maines, who got a rather unWagnerian applause after her main aria). Marc Heller proved to have the stamina for Rienzi even if his prayer wasn't as moving as I've heard it done. Once again the chorus gave excellent support.


For some reason Napoleon was taken as a recurring and overarching idea - the incident of him crowning himself being repeated - but I couldn't see that there are many obvious parallels, although maybe they see him differently here having had a battle on the outskirts of Innsbruck. Together with the choice of a sort of pseudo Fascist symbol R2 (standing for "Viva Rienzi, viva Roma") it gave the impression that the production rather ducked possible current political nuances. But all in all, it was an enjoyable and worthwhile performance even if it was slightly put in the shade by the Martha production.  


The Team  (Martha)

Lady Harriet Durham - Susanne Langbein

Nancy - Camilla Lehmeier

Lord Tristam Mickleford - Unnsteinn Árnason

Lyonel - Garrie Davislim

Plumkett - Andreas Mattersberger

Der Richter zu Richmond - Stanislav Stambolov

Puppenspielerin - Ingrid Alber-Pahle  


Conductor -  Seokwon Hong

Director – Anette Leistenschneider

Sets -  Andreas Becker

Costume - Michael D. Zimmermann    


Tiroler Symphonieorchester Innsbruck

Chor des Tiroler Landestheaters



Photo - Rupert Larl

Harriet bored by the luxuries on offer




Photo - Rupert Larl

Camilla suggests falling in love as a possible solution






Photo - Rupert Larl

Nancy, Sir Tristam and Harriet get ready to go to the market






Photo - Rupert Larl

Plumkett and Lyonel with a plethora of British symbols






Photo - Rupert Larl

Nancy and Harriet are hired in front of the judge.
Plumkett and Lyonel's outfits did not look particularly British.






Photo - Rupert Larl

Nancy and Harriet get treated to fish and chips,
although they were neatly wrapped in a paper cone rather than authentic newspaper






Photo - Rupert Larl

Harriet gets a spinning lesson from Lyonel






Photo - Rupert Larl

The hunt






Photo - Rupert Larl

The finale
The rather schmaltzy rose bower was introduced on the initial singing of "The last rose of summer"








Photo - Rupert Larl

Rienzi (Marc Heller) addresses his followers






Photo - Rupert Larl

Irene (Josefine Weber), Rienzi and the ghost of his murdered brother






Photo - Rupert Larl

Adriano (Jennifer Maines)






Photo - Rupert Larl

Rienzi addresses the crowd



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